A Florida nursing home abuse attorney knows it is estimated that up to 31 percent of nursing home residents with dementia wander at least once while between 25 and 70 percent of community-dwelling older adults wander. Because adults with cognitive impairment are at high risk of injury, elopement, which is when a person wanders away from a skilled nursing facility, is one of the most dangerous types of wandering and has resulted in the death of elderly patients, including your loved one who is in a skilled nursing facility.
What Causes Elopement?
Elopement and wandering are very common in dementia patients although there are no defining traits to indicate which patients may wander and which may not. In some cases, your loved one may feel they need to get home for some reason, possibly to pick up a child or feed a pet. The more mobile your loved one is, the more likely it is that they may wander or elope. When a family member or loved one elopes, staff members often have no knowledge of the departure or what circumstances led them to wander away from the facility.
Risks of Elopement
When your loved one leaves the grounds of a skilled nursing facility, they place themselves at risk. This risk varies depending on where the facility is located. They could step into a busy intersection in an urban area so that simply walking out the front door is a severe risk or someone who elopes from a rural facility could be in danger due to hazards in the area, such as lakes, rivers, or dense woods. Ten percent of nursing home lawsuits involve elopement with 70 percent involving the death of the resident and 80 percent based on prior elopement of the same patient. For this reason, a Florida nursing home abuse attorney suggests that you review the facility policies and practices that define how patients are monitored, managed and supervised.
In 2006, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs published new regulatory standards related to elopement and wandering. The regulations require that you receive a copy of the facility’s elopement response policies with your loved one’s admission packet, and all residents who are considered at-risk for elopement must be identified to staff. Facilities must make a daily effort to place the facility name, address, and telephone number on any person who is deemed at risk of elopement, and they must have photo identification of all residents on file, accessible to staff. All staff members must also be provided training regarding the facility policy on wandering and elopement.
Other Prevention Methods
In addition to the prevention methods required by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, other prevention methods are recommended at skilled nursing facilities, according to a Florida nursing home abuse attorney. One of the best methods for preventing elopement and wandering is proper training and vigilance by staff. If your loved one suffers from dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease or mental illness, they have an increased risk of wandering and elopement which means they must be more closely watched than other patients. Exits should be locked securely or equipped with alarms if residents are not supposed to use them. The alarms should be tested periodically to be sure they are working correctly. When a door alarm sounds, staff should respond immediately.
There are occasions when the resident of a skilled nursing facility elopes due to the negligence of facility staff. This may occur when staff does not respond to a door alarm immediately or when a resident is not supervised despite being identified as at risk for wandering. Although these errors often occur as a result of improper training or understaffing, the negligence can place your loved one at risk should elopement occur. Skilled nursing facilities are required to take steps to protect all residents, especially those who have been identified as elopement risks.
Contact a Florida Nursing Home Abuse Attorney
If your loved one has been injured after an elopement or if a loved one has died as a result of wandering away from a skilled nursing facility, contact a Florida nursing home abuse attorney today to learn what rights you may have.