Elopement in nursing homes is when a resident is wandering unsupervised, which results in the resident leaving the facility.
Reasons for Elopement in Nursing Homes
Typically, a nursing home resident’s mental, emotional, and physical state contribute to whether they will elope from a nursing home.
Mental and Emotional State
If a nursing home resident suffers from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other mental or emotional conditions, they may not understand that they must stay at the nursing home and attempt to leave. They may feel a sudden urge to visit a friend, feed a pet they had as a child, or get back to a former place of employment. Any resident that has a mental or emotional condition that would prevent them from understanding that they should remain on the premises should be on an enhanced watch by the nursing home staff.
According to the Annals of Long-Term Care, residents with dementia are more at risk of elopement if they are in an unfamiliar environment, have had a recent medication change, are often alone, have changes to their routines and schedules, are spatially disoriented, or demonstrate a desire to engage in a past routine or practice, such as “go home”.
Residents who do not need wheelchairs or walkers are a greater risk for elopement. Understandably, if a resident has difficulty walking, they will be less likely to elope. The greatest risk of elopement from a nursing home is in those residents that have full mobility but mental impairments.
Prevention of Elopement
Elopement is completely preventable. Nursing home staff should receive training on how to monitor patients to prevent elopement. Each resident’s mental, emotional, and physical state requires close monitoring to determine which residents may pose the greatest elopement risks. Residents with the highest risk of elopement should receive additional monitoring.
Nursing homes should lock all doorways or equip exits with alarms to ensure that residents are unable to leave unannounced. Staff should always respond to door alarms quickly to prevent a resident from eloping and harming themselves or others.
Nursing Home Staff and Elopement
Elopement risk increases if staff fails in their duty to monitor and supervise their residents. When a nursing home lacks adequate staff or improperly trains staff members, the possibility of the resident elopement also increases. If your elderly loved one is in a nursing home, make sure to ask how their staff recognizes elopement risks, and how the staff monitors their residents.
Some ways a nursing home staff can mitigate the opportunities for resident elopement include:
- Placing residents at a higher risk for elopement on higher floors.
- Taking pictures of all residents in case a resident elopes, so staff can use the picture as a tool to find the elderly resident.
- Placing wallpaper over doors so that the exit is not obvious.
- Ensure that activities that involve many residents happen away from doors where a resident could slip away unnoticed.
- Provide identification badges to any visitors, so that no person can leave the facility without turning in an identification badge.
- Supervise all activities or exercise outside carefully, with few participants.
- Increase visual checks on any resident that may be extremely agitated to ensure that they are closely monitored and do not elope.
- Perform drills that test the nursing home staff to see if a resident is missing. One way to do this is to have an administrator bring a resident to their office to visit and see how long it takes the nursing home staff to notice they are missing.
- Make sure to do a headcount after every emergency drill, actual fire alarm, or another emergency test.
- Ensure proper care of residents, so residents do not wander for food, medicine, or care.
When Elopement in Nursing Homes Occurs
In the catastrophic case that an elopement occurs from a nursing home by a resident, the staff should have a plan to manage the crisis. A formal search procedure should exist that specifically defines and describes each staff member’s responsibility regarding the elopement.
Multiple photographs of the resident should exist so that nursing home staff members may show the picture to those in the community or near the nursing home to help identify the direction the resident went. Staff should contact the police immediately, and there should be a sense of urgency to find the resident as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, for residents not found within 24 hours, the risk of death is quite high due to hyperthermia, dehydration, and drowning.
Contact a Nursing Home Lawyer
If your elderly loved one eloped from a nursing home due to a nursing home’s negligence, contact Pintas & Mullins Law Firm at (800) 842-6336 to help you determine your legal rights.