I read a sad "story" online this morning. The story concerned an 83-year-old patient of an assisted living facility who was allowed just before lunch this past Tuesday to leave the facility. He was reported later by the facility and police to be missing. The story did not contain any discussion of how the man was allowed by the facility to leave -- no description of the facility's efforts to supervise the man's whereabouts, its efforts to prevent him from leaving, or its attempts to locate him. The patient was reported in the story to have bipolar disorder and dementia. According to the online story, the missing patient had "no immediate family in the area." Read more about the man's disappearance.
That's it . . . no more mention or discussion of the man other than he was missing, no longer where he should be, gone. Perhaps it's because the man had "no immediate family in the area" that the facility didn't pay much attention to his safety and security. Too often, nursing homes and assisted living facilities think of their patients as problems, as less-than-full human beings. As a result, they don't devote the time, attention, and money that's required to keep them safe from harm. Wandering, sometimes referred to as elopement, is allowed to become a problem and result in disappearances and worse.
Wandering or elopement doesn't have to end in tragedy. I've reported several times on this web site about the many types of preventative measures, including alarms, that can be used by nursing homes and assisted living facilities to protect their patients. When they're not used, it's usually because facilities don't want to commit their resources (translation "time and money").
Whether or not this patient is ever found, he never should have been permitted to leave the assisted living facility without supervision. He never should have become the subject of a "missing persons" story. He deserves more than to become a footnote in history. He certainly deserves for the last thing people read about him to be something other than that he was a "missing person" or his obituary. If he's not found, perhaps the facility that let him leave will honor him with a bit more attention than he received when he was allowed to walk out of the facility's doors . . . that is, if they're not too busy.
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