When Residents Run Away from Nursing Homes

A nursing home abuse lawyer, like from Mishkind Kulwicki Law, CO., L.P.A., will often investigate cases involving severe personal injuries or wrongful death sustained by a resident who attempts to escape the facility or actually escapes the facility. In medical legal terms, inadvertent or intentional escape from a nursing home or group home facility is called elopement.

 Elopement can result in severe personal injuries or wrongful death. Oftentimes, the individual who escapes the facility or wanders off is incapable of caring for themselves or finding their way back. This can result in exposure to the elements that may result in severe sunburn, hyperthermia, heat stroke, hypothermia, freezing to death, drowning, or being hit by a car or truck. These individuals are also prone to falls that may result in injury.

 Elopement occurs for a number of reasons. In some cases, an individual with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, a psychological disorder, autism or a traumatic brain injury simply becomes confused and wanders away from the facility. In other cases, the individual becomes paranoid due to an underlying psychological disorder and intentionally escapes from the facility.

 The prevention of elopement begins with proper physician orders and a nursing care plan. There are well established parameters for establishing a diagnosis of conditions that lead to confusion, wandering or escape. In addition, there are well established parameters for identifying residents who are a fall risk.

 Proper safety begins with a diagnosis by a physician, along with orders for medication and monitoring. Medication can be used to minimize the symptoms of an underlying psychiatric disorder or to sedate a patient who is prone to wandering. It is well known in the medical community that some patients will tend to wander during the evening hours when they become agitated. This is called sundowner’s disease. Physician’s orders should also establish parameters for monitoring the patient and reassessment.

 Once a psychiatric condition has been identified, the nursing staff is responsible for developing a nursing care plan to protect the patient. This will include engagement with the patient, head counts and redirecting a confused patient. In addition, the facility has a responsibility for maintaining safe conditions on site, such as removing tripping hazards, using code entry pads to enter elevators and stairwells and locking doors to prevent accidental elopement.

A recent wrongful death lawsuit illustrates the dangers associated with failure to monitor patients who are at risk of wandering or escaping. A wrongful death lawsuit was filed on behalf of a family of a former professional football player who was found dead at the bottom of the stairwell in a nursing home.  The stairwell’s access door should have been locked. In addition, the deceased individual was not found for approximately 14 hours before his death. So, the opportunity to resuscitate him and prevent his death was lost. This facility was likely negligent in failing to secure the premises and monitor its residents’ activities. In some instances, closed-circuit monitoring can be used to confirm the whereabouts of residents. 

If you have lost a loved one or a loved one has sustained serious personal injuries as a result of escaping from a nursing home or group home, you should contact a nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer in order to conduct an investigation. Time limits may apply.