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Wandering & Elopement
Nursing homes have many different obligations when it comes to caring for their residents. Besides the obvious duties to provide medical care, assistance with daily activities and food and nutrition, there are certain basic obligations that should be self-evident, but bear repeating. Nursing homes have a duty to protect their residents from any type of harm.
In some instances, nursing home residents resist being confined to the care of another in a defined space. Oftentimes, they are suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia and have an idea that they want to be elsewhere. When that happens, these residents may wander away from the facility. When nursing home residents are on their own, they are vulnerable to many different things. For example:
- There have been cases where residents have wandered and have frozen to death. Often, when residents are wandering, it is either at night or during times of adverse weather conditions, or both. It does not take long for a resident exposed to the cold to develop hypothermia.
- Residents who wander are physically vulnerable. They can be subject to mistreatment and assault outside the nursing home, including sexual assault and robbery.
- Many residents are found on the side of the road when they have eloped. There is the obvious danger that disoriented residents can be hit by cars when walking in the street or crossing it.
- When residents are outside of the facility, they do not receive their necessary medical treatments or medications. Certain medical conditions can endanger the resident’s life if it is not regularly treated and even one dose of many medications is critical to survival. At the same time, if the resident is not receiving hygienic help for a period of time, it can lead to infection. For example, if a resident has developed a pressure ulcer and has left the facility, the regular cleaning and wound treatment is vital to prevent infection.
- Residents who wander increase their risk of falls when they leave the safer environment of the nursing home which should have many hazards removed. Falls will lead to a higher risk of fracture.
Nursing homes have many different obligations in this regards. This is an area where, if something goes wrong, the nursing home will likely face significant consequences. When residents have eloped from the nursing home, the state and federal regulators will usually treat it as a regulatory violation that has involved actual harm to the resident. This is important because it means that there will be some sort of a penalty assessed against that skilled nursing facility. This is an area where regulators view any violations with particular severity.Why Does Wandering Happen?
Wandering is more prevalent in individuals who are cognitively impaired. One of the symptoms that they have, if they are mobile, is that they will excessively ambulate. They do this in order to fill some sort of need. This could happen because they have a need for more stimulation or even for a physical reason, such as they need to urinate. Sometimes, a disoriented resident will have an urge to “just go home” that they feel they need to satisfy. Finally, there could be some kind of physical discomfort that will cause the resident to wander.Some Statistics About Nursing Home Wandering
It is estimated that approximately one in three nursing home residents who have dementia will wander at least once during the time of their residency at the facility. The same residents who wander once may have a propensity to engage in the behavior. Wandering presents a significant danger to the resident. If the resident is not located within the first 24 hours, there is approximately a 25 percent chance that they will not survive. This is due to the many risks that were described above.How Can Wandering be the Fault of the Nursing Home?
One of the main reasons that residents are able to elope from the facility is because the nursing home has been negligent in some way. Here are some of the ways that nursing homes can fail to uphold their duty to care for the residents when it comes to wandering.
- Nursing homes have the obligation to assess a resident’s risk for wandering. If they have deemed the resident to be a risk of elopement, they must take measures to protect the resident and prevent them from leaving the facility. These measures need to be strengthened and updated if the resident has left once and been returned to the facility.
- Nursing homes often have an inadequate number of staff members to provide the necessary amount of care and supervision to the residents. They do this in order to maintain or enhance their profitability. Unfortunately, this means that the residents are not always well cared for and supervised. When residents have wandered, it often is the result of a lack of staff members to watch them.
- The nursing home may have lost track of the resident and not even realized that they were missing. The immediate time after a resident has eloped is critical to locate the resident. The further that they get from the nursing home, the more difficult it will be to find them. The resident may become more disoriented if they miss a dose of medication. As such, nursing homes may take insufficient measures to find residents who have wandered.
- Sometimes nursing homes are negligent in that they leave certain doors unlocked, which makes it easier for a resident to exit the facility. Either that or they do not adequately watch the exits from the facility. Nearly all wandering cases involve residents who either left through the front door or a side exit with the door unlocked.
The nursing home’s potential liability begins the moment that the resident has exited the facility on their own. Even if a third party did something to a resident, the nursing home will be the party that is liable to the resident and their family. Not only could this result in civil liability for the nursing home, but there is also the potential that staff could be criminally charged. One of the key factors is whether a nursing home knew or should have known that the resident had a propensity to wander. A nursing home will have to show the steps that it took to assess the resident’s risk and the measures that they took to prevent elopement. Below are some instances of lawsuits that have been filed against nursing homes for wandering injuries.
Settlement for $875,000 in Michigan (2018) – The resident was a known risk of elopement and the facility was well-aware that he had the ability to wander. He left the facility in his wheelchair unnoticed through a broken and unlocked door. He left the facility in the middle of a freezing night and was found dead in a dumpster the next morning with his limbs froze. The lawsuit alleged that the facility was negligent in both letting him exit the facility and delaying the search for him. For more information on Michigan nursing homes, look here.
Lawsuit Filed in Pennsylvania (2019) – The resident had a known tendency to wander, even before they were admitted to the nursing facility. The resident left the PA nursing home one night and there is video of her walking around disoriented. According to the lawsuit, she triggered alarms when she left the facility, but staff ignored them. The resident suffered a head injury when she fell off of a retaining wall. She fell two stories onto concrete and died from her injuries. She was not wearing a Wander Guard bracelet when she left the facility.
Lawsuit Filed in Washington (2017) – The resident had a history of delusions and the family believes that he was a known wandering risk. The resident left the facility and 10 PM one night and was seen near the front door of the facility. Staff did not allegedly check his room or conduct a thorough search when it was discovered that he disappeared. He was found lying down in the parking lot. He had suffered injury from the cold and was hospitalized. He was sent back to the nursing home and died the next day.
Settlement for $1 million in California (2006) – The resident had Alzheimer’s and the family had chosen the facility based on their belief that it could protect their family member. The resident left the facility and entered a mobile home park, where they fell. The resident contracted pneumonia from being outside, which was the cause of death. The lawsuit alleged that the nursing home did not have adequate staff to monitor and keep the resident inside the premises. For more information on California nursing homes, look here.
Jury Verdict for $2 million in New York (2006) – The resident left the facility and went back to a former place of residence where he had lived 20 years ago. At the time, he was suffering from renal failure and needed dialysis. He was found ill in the building to which he had wandered. In addition to alleging that the NY nursing home was negligent in allowing the resident to wander, it also claimed that the nursing home failed to administer his medications.Has Your Loved One Been Injured After Wandering From a Nursing Home? Get Legal Help Now
Wandering is unfortunately a common cause of nursing home injuries and the attorneys at the Nursing Home Law Center have experience in filing claims against skilled nursing facilities when this has happened and residents have gotten hurt. Contact us to discuss your case with us and we can let you know whether we believe you have a viable cause of action for financial compensation and the process that would need to be followed in order for your family to receive compensation. You can reach out to us online or call us at (800) 726-9565.Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect Resources