Tales From Our Files: Lessons Learned Concerning Nursing Home Negligence

“Walter” was an 87 year old gentleman who suffered Alzheimer’s disease and became a full time resident at the defendant’s assisted living facility.

Internal documents obtained from the defendant during litigation revealed that “Walter” was last seen in the hallway outside his room at 2:30 a.m.  He was uneventfully redirected back to his room by a staff member.  At 7:00 a.m. a routine bed check revealed that he was missing and a search of the facility ensued.  Documents obtained in discovery revealed that the defendant had previously promulgated a “Missing Resident” policy which mandated that “a resident’s whereabouts are to be known at all times.”  In addition, the aforesaid policy provided that preliminary search efforts by the staff should last no longer than approximately one hour from the time that the resident was first reported missing.  After that time, the policy mandates that the staff contact the local authorities.   Moreover, documents obtained by our office revealed that the facility waited nearly four hours before contacting police once their initial search proved unsuccessful.  We argued that this delay enabled “Walter” to elope from the facility and slowly wander ever deeper into nearby woods.  During the time that he was missing, he was unable to avail himself of the basic necessities of life including sustenance, hydration, shelter and his daily medications which included Coumadin, a medicine used to thin the blood to prevent a stroke.  To compound his unfortunate circumstance, the area received substantial rain during the entirety of the time that the he was lost in the woods and we were prepared to demonstrate this fact with the assistance of climactic records from the National Weather Service.  A massive search was thereafter undertaken and “Walter” was finally recovered deep in the woods approximately 36 hours after it was first noticed that he was missing.  He was rushed to a nearby hospital and treated.  Sadly, he suffered a stroke the following day and later died.

Accordingly, we maintained that the facility’s negligence (1) allowed “Walter” to elope from his building (2) thereby preventing him from ingesting his ordinary dosage of Coumadin and (3) leading to his eventual stroke and death.  The case settled at mediation.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities must take appropriate precautions to guard against the common phenomenon of residents seeking to wander or elope entirely.  As a concerned family member of a nursing home resident, you should make it a point to ask the facility’s director about the precautions that they take to avoid these serious problems.  Do they utilize and monitor closed circuit television?  Is there a staff person posted at the front door 24 hours per day?  Do they utilize a personal alarm for those residents who are known wandering risks?  How often do they “make the rounds” within the facility?  All of these are important questions that demand honest answers.

As always, vigilance is the key to safety.

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