An elderly woman was found dead after she managed to walk away from an assisted living facility.“It's a tragedy,” said the sheriff. “It’s just a terrible, terrible thing."
The last few minutes of the 84-year-old woman's life were no doubt frightening and painful.Autopsy results show the dementia patient, who was found in a watery ditch across the street from the home, died of hypothermia.
She somehow walked away from the facility between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. on a Tuesday.She wasn't wearing shoes or even a
sweater over her nightgown. "It was about 27 degrees that evening so
you could see if she did fall down in that water, how agonizing her
death had to be,” said a neighbor.
Nearby residents and local
police said this isn't the first time the center has been under
investigation.A number of code violations may have added up to make
Tuesday’s tragedy possible.Three of the six doors were not operating
properly and locks were left undone.The owner of the facility is also
accused of not always filling out the residents’ prescriptions,
including inhalers and Vicodin. The facility had been investigated by the state at least seven times over the past few
The sheriff said his deputies have been called to
home in the past several times for walkaways, but that this latest
incident could ultimately result in a negligent homicide charge. For more, read the story.
This case is a terrible tragedy, one that never should have occurred. A dementia patient should not be able to get out of an assisted living facility in the middle of the night. The nursing home
could and should have done more to prevent this tragedy.
dependent, cognitively impaired patient should never be permitted to
wander or elope undetected and unsupervised. A nursing home or assisted
living facility must recognize the risk of wandering or eloping and
take immediate steps to ensure the patient’s safety. Staff should be
educated and warned about the patient’s risk of wandering or eloping.
The nursing home or assisted living facility should also use electronic
alarms that will notify staff immediately when the patient leaves the
facility or a safe area in or around the facility.
Elopement occurs when a patient who lacks safety awareness leaves a
nursing home or assisted living facility or a safe area within or
outside the facility without the knowledge of the facility’s staff and
without proper supervision. A patient who elopes is at risk of heat or
cold exposure, dehydration, drowning, getting struck by a motor
vehicle, and falling. Facility policies should clearly define the
procedures for monitoring and managing patients at risk for elopement
and otherwise minimize the risk that a patient will leave the facility
or a safe area without authorization or appropriate supervision. In
addition, the patient’s care plan should address the potential for
elopement. A nursing home or assisted living facility’s disaster and
emergency preparedness plan should include a plan to locate a missing
patient who has eloped.
Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is
dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing
home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke,
Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.
Posted on Tue, March 31, 2009
by Robert Carter