Why in the world would I suggest the the people who are responsible for the care of our most vulnerable take a lesson from those responsible for most violent? The answer has to do with how nursing homes keep track of their residents.
Call it wandering, eloping or just escaping, there have been several recent reports of nursing home residents who have wandered from their facilities to their death without the facilities knowledge. When nursing home residents leave their safe and familiar facilities that are at the mercy of a world unaware of each residents needs. Two recent cases highlight the need for nursing homes to take notes from the jails in the way they monitor residents, staff their facilities and implement basic safeguards to minimize the risks of missing residents.
In Chicago, 89 year-year-old Sara Wentworth was a resident at The Arbor of Itasca, a Chicago-land nursing home when she walked out a door and into a wooded area. Hours later, staff found Ms. Wentworth’s dead body just a short distance away.
A investigation into the matter by local police concluded that personnel had last checked on the woman at 3 a.m. and area police were notified at 5:40 a.m. when the patient was lying on a gurney not breathing. Nursing home workers acknowledged hearing the door alarm that was activated when Wentworth left the facility but took no responsive action.
In Ohio, an 87-year-old resident wandered from her facility and into a nearby road where she was struck by a hit-and-run driver. The woman’s body was found on the side of the road by local drivers. The woman had similar wandering episodes prior to this incident.
Both of the above situations involve residents who suffered from dementia. Yet despite the facilities diagnosis of dementia and their known propensity to wander, staff at these facilities failed to implement preventative measures and have adequate staffing to monitor these women and prevent them from harming themselves.
Perhaps the nursing home administrators should take a page from the wardens and other administrative staff of our correctional system? An out of place inmate poses a risk to other inmates in the jail and to the public at large. In a jail setting, an inmate who is known as an escape risk will also likely get increased supervision.
Am I suggesting that nursing home residents be stripped of their rights to the same extent of violent criminals? Of course not. However, in the case of residents who are at risk of ‘leaving the facility’ some of the same escape precautions should be implemented.
Put away the guns and striped uniforms, but keep in mind the following:
- Assess all residents who are at risk of leaving the facility
- Keep door alarms and window alarms should be installed and in working order
- Staff should monitor all exits of the long-term facility or nursing home
- Keep at-risk residents close to a nursing station or in a high-traffic area to assure many people on the nursing home staff can look after the resident
- Potentially use physical restraints for residents who are at risk for harming themselves
- Notify authorities immediately after residents are noticed missing
- Have contingent plans in effect locate missing residents