It’s estimated that 60 percent of all people with dementia will wander – and a significant number of nursing home patients suffer some form of dementia. It’s a serious problem because oftentimes, these individuals may not remember their name or address or become disoriented – even in a familiar place. Sometimes, it’s one of the issues that led loved ones to seek long-term skilled nursing care. These facilities know this is a problem they are likely to face, and they owe a duty of care to put in place strong measures to ensure patients are protected. Usually that means there are locks and alarms on all potential exits. It means patients themselves may be equipped with some type of electronic monitoring. It means there are enough staffers to keep a watchful eye on patients.
Not long ago in Ohio, a 56-year-old man with dementia and a history of attempted escapes slipped out of a nursing home where he’d lived for three years after a heart-attach that induced cognitive decline. He was stopped by police about two hours later. The nursing home had not reported him missing by that time. The officers took him to the city limit the next community over after he told them he was trying to get there to his home. Two days later, he was found dead, likely due to exposure (temperatures had dipped below freezing, and he was found curled up on the ground next to a dumpster in a gas station parking lot).
A spokesperson for the facility would later say decedent used an elevator security code to walk out right behind a patient visitor. A staff member of the nursing home ushered them both out. The family’s attorney told The Canton Repository the man was a known risk, which was why he was in this secured unit. His elopement should never have happened to begin with, but even if they had at least reported it before police encountered him, law enforcement would have been able to secure and return him.
The local police department also is examining whether it could have taken different measures that would have resulted in a better outcome.
The man’s family said they were not notified he was missing until 11 hours after the man reportedly left the center. Within an hour of that, it was his sister who contacted police – the first police learned of his disappearance.
There is a long history of courts across the country awarding significant damages to patients or surviving family members harmed when a patient with dementia wanders from a facility and suffers resulting harm – especially when there is evidence the patient was prone to such incidences. This is true even when there is an intervening cause.
For example, in Golden Villa Nursing Home v. Smith, the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed a verdict against a nursing home after a motorcycle struck a nursing home resident who left the facility and wandered onto a highway. The court found the resident had a long history of wandering that put the facility on notice of his propensity to wander.
The Louisiana Court of Appeal affirmed a verdict against a nursing home in Booty v. Kentwood Manor Nursing Home, wherein a resident wandered out of the facility, fell and broke his hip. The staff had previously retrieved the resident outside the facility on two occasions prior – on the same night.
At the absolute minimum, nursing homes must identify potential wanderers, develop prevention programs and then act to keep the facility safe and have a comprehensive plan to act quickly if a resident does go missing. Though this may seem common sense, our nursing home wrongful death attorneys know expert witness testimony is often required in litigation to establish this standard of care and prevail in such a case.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Attorney: Death of nursing home patient could have been avoided, April 19, 2018 , By Lori Steineck, The Canton Repository
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