Nursing home residents typically have an impairment that prevents them from living independently or with family members — and these impairments can also make leaving the grounds of the nursing home a dangerous proposition. For this reason, the nursing home charged with a resident’s care has a duty of care to keep its residents safe on its property, and under appropriate supervision.
Nearly 10 percent of nursing home malpractice suits are related to elopement. If a resident is not located within the first 24 hours of elopement, there is a 1 in 4 chance they will not survive. 45 percent of elopements that become the subject of malpractice suits occur in the 48 hours after an elder is first admitted to a nursing home, and 70 percent result in the resident’s death.
What is Nursing Home Elopement?
Nursing home elopement, sometimes called “wandering off,” refers to a resident leaving their home facility without properly mandated care and supervision. While some nursing home residents are allowed to leave facility grounds under their own care or that of others, many have issues that prevent them from being safely released under their own cognizance.
When a physically or mentally-impaired resident leaves their care facility under an unauthorized arrangement, this elopement can constitute an act of negligence if it leads to injury.
Warning Signs of Nursing Home Elopement Risk
By some estimates, nursing home residents with dementia have 1 in 3 odds of wandering off nursing home property at least once in their time of residency. In addition, past wandering behavior is a good predictor of future elopement. These patients should be given special attention, and precautions should be taken considering their heightened risk of elopement.
Other risk factors include:
- Agitation, anxiety, boredom or stress
- Disorientation to surroundings
- Cognitive or neurological conditions that affect judgment
- Changes to their medication or treatment
- Unmet physical needs
- Lacking social interaction or time with loved ones
When nursing home residents show signs of agitation or confusion, preventative measures against elopement should be taken. Source: Wikipedia
Preventative Measures Within Nursing Homes
The root causes of elopement are often evident in the standard practices of the nursing home. Are there visible staff in the halls, and locks on the doors and windows? Are other residents wandering the halls? A failure to prevent foreseeable instances of elopement can constitute negligence.
There are several preventative systems that reputable nursing homes put in place to stop elopement:
- Assessing residents at risk of elopement and closely monitoring them
- Surveillance systems in non-private areas of the facility and exit doors, with alarms at exit doors and windows
- Installing locks between resident areas and other areas of the building
- A counting system for residents, enabling the facility to quickly react when a resident is missing
- Appropriately staffing the facility
The Dangers of Nursing Home Elopement
All 50 states require facilities to implement reasonable measures to guard against elopement — with fines assessed in cases of such wandering, even when no harm comes to the resident. This is because the dangers of elopement are well established. They include:
- An increased risk of falling and other injury. Many nursing home residents are physically frail and have deteriorating motor skills, which can lead to an increased risk of falling down stairs, tumbles into bodies of water and traffic accidents.
- Increased confusion. Even when no visible harm comes to a resident, unseen harm may be present.
- Missing needed medications and treatments. With certain conditions, even one missed treatment can affect a resident’s long-term prognosis.
- Being attacked, assaulted or robbed. Many nursing home residents are physically and mentally vulnerable, leaving them open to being taken advantage of.
- Developing hypothermia. Often when residents elope it is at night, when it is coldest — there have even been cases of residents freezing to death.
If nursing home residents are allowed to wander off on their own, they may be at risk of harm. Source: Pexels
When to Consult with a Nursing Home Elopement Attorney
Most cases of nursing home elopement are avoidable, and some may lead to serious injury. The best course of action if you feel that nursing home negligence has caused harm to a loved one is to consult with skilled attorneys like those at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt as soon as possible. With 30 years of experience in medical malpractice, McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt is well suited to evaluate the situation and help determine if the injury suffered involved acts of negligence.