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Nursing Home Wandering/ Elopement Can Create Liability

A case nursing home elopement ended tragically in Massachusetts recently, when a man who suffered a severe brain injury wandered away from a nursing home one Tuesday night. He was found dead the next day. 

Local news outlets reported the 54-year-old was last seen at the nursing home around 7 p.m. the evening before. Having suffered a severe brain injury  from a ruptured aneurysm which resulted in severe memory loss, as well as numerous other medical conditions, the man wasn’t necessarily considered high risk, the way some Alzheimer’s or dementia patients are. He wasn’t required to wear a monitoring bracelet. Staffers called police when they realized the man was missing, but told authorities they didn’t know if the building had surveillance cameras and weren’t sure how to access records to determine exactly when the exit doors had been opened. The evening before he disappeared, his brother had just helped him move from the ground floor into a newer room, reserved for patients with longer stays.

Although he was often confused, believing he still lived in his childhood hometown, doctors were hopeful that he would be able to regain a significant amount of his brain function. He had been in a coma for two months after the aneurysm ruptured back in October. However, much of the time recently, he’d been agitated and confused. It is believed he went missing some time between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Staff believed he may have simply walked out the front door of the main floor, possibly by following someone else out. The facility filed their missing persons report around 8:20 p.m. 

Investigators combed the streets, and police in decedent’s home town were notified to be on the lookout as well. Authorities still think he was trying to get back to his childhood home when he left, but the streets would likely have been unfamiliar and he probably would not have known how to ask for help.

The following morning, police received a call of a person sleeping outside in the alley, in near freezing temperatures. It was there, between a photo shop and a day care center, that police found the missing man. He was declared dead at the scene, less than two miles from the nursing home. Authorities do not suspect foul play, but nursing home negligence is a different story.

This is not the first time a nursing home patient has been seriously injured or killed after wandering away from a nursing home. Residents in other scenarios have been exposed to the elements, struck by vehicles or dehydrated. Others disappear and are never found. Wandering is one of the least understood behaviors about dementia and brain injuries, but it is known to be one of the most common.

At minimum, nursing homes have a responsibility to identify wanderers or potential wanderers and develop programs and activities for the individual, keep the facility safe and have a fast, comprehensive, facility-wide method to mobilize staff to immediately notice when a patient is missing and to promptly respond when it is realized.

In many of these nursing home negligence cases, expert witnesses are required to testify as to the applicable standard of care when it comes to patient wandering.

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.

Additional Resources:

Loved ones seek answers after death of Lewis Rosati, Jan. 26, 2017, By Aaron Leibowitz,

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Report: LGBT Nursing Home Residents Face Harassment, Jan. 22, 2017, Florida Nursing Home Abuse Attorney Blog

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