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Lack Of Door Alarms Allows Assisted Living Patient To Wander To Her Death

Another unnecessary death of an assisted living patient grabbed my attention in Greensboro, North Carolina.  News reports indicate 85-year-old Edith Purvis walked out the side-door at a Loyalton Assisted Living facility on December 24th.  She wasn’t discovered missing until staff at the facility conducted a routine bed check.

Assisted Living Patient  Wanders To Her DeathMs. Purvis wasn’t located until several hours later when staff at the facility found her body close to the door she is believed to have exited from.  Despite efforts to resuscitate her, Ms. Purvis was pronounced dead upon arrival at Moses Cone Hospital.  Her death was primarily related to exposure to the freezing temperatures.

An investigation into the incident is underway by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service.  However, at this time, it is apparent that the facilities failure to equip exterior doors with a device known as a door alarm, allowed Ms. Purvis to exit the facility without the knowledge of the staff.  If the investigation by North Carolina Officials confirms the initial situation, it may face up to $20,000 in fines.

Wandering Cases

Wandering cases involving a death or severe injury to a patient at a nursing home or assisted living facility are a real tragedy simply because most cases could have been prevented with relatively basic safeguards.

When it comes to caring for people with dementia, many of which are able-bodied and active, facilities need to accurately asses if their facility is really capable of caring for them in the first place.  In order to provide a safe atmosphere for dementia and Alzheimer patients facilities need to have:

  • Door / Window alarms
  • Keep dangerous materials safe guarded
  • Have a system to track patients whereabouts
  • Train staff regarding how to re-direct patients

For laws related to North Carolina nursing homes, look here.


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State Steps In After Second Episode Involving Patient Elopement At Same Facility

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3 responses to “Lack Of Door Alarms Allows Assisted Living Patient To Wander To Her Death”

  1. Marylynn says:

    My Mom lives at an Assisted Living Facility that does not have external door alarms. She was found outside 2 nights ago (at 4:30 am) trying to get back in (doors were locked), and she had nothing on but her nightgown! The temperature was in the low 20s outside. Thankfully, she is OK. Is there an easy door alarm that I could put on her apartment door, so the staff there would know if she leaves her apartment, before she gets to the outside doors and exits the building??

  2. There is simply no excuse for a facility to allow a patient to wander from a facility without knowledge of the staff. Further, the fact that this incident occurred during frigid temperatures is even more concerning.
    I would suggest that you speak to the staff at the facility and voice your safety concerns. If you do not get sufficient reassurances, you may wish to look for an alternative facility.
    Most door alarms are quite expensive and an individual unit is probably not practical. This facility should have adequate staffing and safeguards in place without your additional expenditure related to purchasing more equipment.

  3. Hello Marylynn and Jonathan – I think the missing piece of information here is that Assisted Living communities are designed to provide lifestyle and care options that enable seniors to live as independently and comfortably as possible. Such was the case at Emeritus at Greensboro. Assisted living communities are very different environments than nursing homes, particularly when it comes to emergency call systems and secured areas. And the residents at Assisted Living communities are not “patients” they are simply “residents.”
    Marylynn, It sounds like your mother isn’t in a memory care or skilled nursing environment, where door alarms are required by state law and wrist/ankle band alert systems might be more typical.
    If you feel like your mother is starting to wander, a better approach may be to have her evaluated by a health-care provider. And we agree with Jonathan, that you should discuss your safety concerns with the staff. It may be time to consider moving her to a more secure senior living community, that can care for seniors that are developing behaviors that might risk their safety.

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