At the heart of many allegations of negligence involving assisted living facilities is an underlying presumption that the facilities failure to properly supervise a resident resulted in an injury to a patient. Supervisory issues take center stage in many cases because the need for additional supervision is a primary reason why many people seek out the services of an assisted living facility in the first place– because they can not care for themselves at home.
While we frequently discuss the internal threats to patients at nursing homes or assisted living facilities– such as through falls or food poisoning, more attention needs to be put upon the inherent safety threats posed to residents when they ‘wander’ or ‘elope’ from the safety of the facility as these threats may not always be deemed valid.
When discussing situations involving patient elopement, the circumstance commonly involves a patient who lacks the capacity to truly comprehend the ramifications of their actions. Unlike a patient who may be unhappy with their situation or living arrangements at a nursing home or assisted living facility and seeks to ‘escape’ back to the life they once knew, the most concerning cases of patient elopement / wandering involve patients who lack the cognitive ability to make decisions for themselves.
Individuals plagued with Alzheimer’s and other types of memory loss are perhaps the biggest risks when it comes to categories of patients who are “elopement risks”. Identifying patients who pose a risk of eloping from the facility is indeed one of the most important factors in preventing these situations from occurring in the first place. Once the risk has been identified, facilities can then implement both physical safeguards and behavior modifications to help prevent incidents of elopement from occurring.
I was again reminded about the dangers related to patient elopement when I read about an incident involving a patient who eloped from an assisted living facility in New Jersey and was struck by a car and killed as she was crossing the highway adjacent to the facility. According to news reports of the incident, the woman suffered from schizophrenia, psychosis, both short-term and long-term memory loss and was known to was identified as being an ‘elopement risk’ by the facility.
Believing that this incident should have been avoidable with proper care, the family of the deceased resident has initiated a lawsuit against both the ALF, Brandywine Assisted Living, and the company’s CEO.
From a legal perspective, if the circumstances prove to be correct, this facility obviously breached its duty of care in looking after this vulnerable patient. Particularly with the advancements in technology being made with both GPS locating technology and other devises to notify staff when a patient is attempting to leave a facility, incidents such as this really need not occur.
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