When we place our elderly loved ones in a nursing home or long term care facility, we trust that they will remain safe in the care of professionals. Unfortunately, resident safety is never 100% guaranteed and negligence does happen. One of the most frightening forms of nursing home neglect is the reality of elopement, or intentional wandering. Elopement occurs when a resident with a cognitive impairment such as dementia leaves the facility unattended and unobserved. Contrary to what one would assume, resident elopement in Louisville, KY nursing homes is the cause of a surprisingly large number of nursing home deaths and injuries.
Statistics in this scholarly document indicate that more than 34,000 Alzheimer’s patients wander out of their homes every year in the U.S. The exact numbers are more difficult to come by in regards to institutionalized dementia patients, but it’s estimated that at least 11% to 24% wander. According to this 2015 nursing home healthcare guide, ten percent of all lawsuits involving nursing homes deal with elopements. 79% of those lawsuits involve the death of a resident. Most elopement-caused deaths are due to extreme temperature exposure, falls, drownings, or traffic accidents. When nursing home residents leave the safety of their facility unattended, the chance of death becomes extremely high—even higher if they’re not found within the first day.
The Realities and Prevention of Elopement
The unfortunate reality of elopement cases is that elopement is something that is preventable. With proper resident assessment, a staffing team that’s large enough to keep an eye on residents known to wander, activities to keep residents physically active, secure doors with alarms, and wrist/ankle bands that trigger said alarms, a long term care facility can keep wandering-prone dementia patients safe. Without all of those things, however, cases of elopement can and will happen.
Most nursing homes and long term care facilities are vastly understaffed. During the night shift, especially, it can be fairly easy for a nursing home resident to sneak out of an unsecure facility. Facilities without working alarm systems or that do not regularly inspect their alarm systems are also at a greater risk of elopement. Secure windows and required entrance/exit logs are also useful for preventing elopement. Many institutions feel that extra precautions to keep residents with dementia safe and inside the facility are not necessary, but this attitude couldn’t be any farther from the truth.
Taking Legal Action
If you have a loved one who wandered away from their nursing home or long term care facility and suffered either physical or emotional damage, you may feel like you have few options. Help is always available, however. If the facility employees didn’t do everything in their power to keep your loved one safe, you are fully entitled to file a lawsuit against the institution. Long term care facilities need to realize that residents with dementia need to be watched extra closely and that understaffing isn’t acceptable.
For more information or a free case consultation, Tad Thomas of Thomas Law Offices is more than happy to speak to you and see if filing a case is an option. Most nursing homes and long term care facilities tend to put corporate and financial needs above the needs of each individual resident, but our loved ones deserve better. The knowledgeable and compassionate attorneys and staff members of Thomas Law Offices will do everything in their power to help residents become the first priority again.