Nursing Home Wandering and Elopement Lawsuits

June 6, 2024 / RP Legal

Wandering and elopement is a term that refers to incidents in which nursing home residents move around unsupervised on the grounds, sometimes leaving the facility entirely. Either of these activities could result in substantial injury to the patient, especially if he or she needs constant medical attention. Many times, wandering or elopement results in wrongful death of the resident.

People trust nursing home establishments to care for their loved ones. When this doesn’t happen, victims and their families have the right to seek monetary compensation for their injuries. Call Rikard & Protopapas to learn if our nursing home abuse attorneys in Columbia can represent you in your wandering and elopement case.

Why Do Nursing Home Residents Wander?

Every nursing home resident is different, which means there are various reasons why one might begin wandering. Below are some of the most common reasons:

  • Habit: The patient may have enjoyed an active and social lifestyle before being homed in the residence, and out of boredom seeks something to pass the time.
  • Mental and cognitive decline: As a person ages and their mental faculties deteriorate, they can become more easily confused and disoriented. This is especially true when a person is suffering from dementia.
  • Health issues: From poor vision to the desire to meet a medical need (e.g. pain or thirst), health issues could be responsible.
  • Medications: Wandering can be caused by certain antipsychotic and sedating medications, which may lead to a confused mental state or desire to wander.
  • Searching: Because of confusion or memory deficiencies, a resident may begin searching for loved ones or their previous home and end up lost.
  • Language or communication barriers: A resident who speaks a foreign language or has trouble communicating may be unable to get back to where they should be.

Wandering happens when the resident is left to his or her own devices on the facility grounds, without the necessary supervision they need to stay safe and healthy. Meanwhile, nursing home elopement can occur if the individual wanders away from the property entirely. This means they leave the relative safety of the residence for an uncontrolled and more dangerous environment.

Accidents and Injuries Happen When a Nursing Home Resident Wanders

Wandering and elopement present a danger to the health and well-being of a nursing home patient. The main reason that someone is housed in one of these facilities, to begin with, is that they need medical attention, sometimes constantly, to keep them alive and in good health.

Wandering around or away from the nursing home grounds, even for a few hours, could result in injury or death for these and other reasons:

  • Without medical attention, necessary and even life-saving medications and treatments won’t be administered.
  • The resident may become confused, disoriented, and lost, unable to be located or to find their way back to safety.
  • There are any number of unsafe environments on and off the grounds, from an unstaffed kitchen to a busy highway.
  • A slip and fall or other personal injury accident can occur if a resident is somewhere they shouldn’t be.
  • The resident may end up in someone else’s room by mistake, which could cause an altercation or other problems.

These and other incidents may cause the resident to suffer:

  • Head injuries (e.g. from a fall), such as traumatic brain injury
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Broken bones
  • Exposure
  • Drowning
  • Complications due to lack of medication or treatment
  • Starvation and thirst
  • Sexual abuse injuries
  • Assault
  • Death

What Can Be Done to Prevent Wandering and Elopement?

Nursing home elopement and wandering are preventable.

When a person is admitted to a nursing home, the staff should take the time to learn the resident’s unique needs and conditions. What are the health problems the resident has? Which medications must he or she take, and when? Asking questions like these will enable the staff to develop a personalized care plan that can prevent or at least reduce the chances of wandering.

Any resident who has cognitive impairments but also the ability to freely move (meaning, for example, not wheelchair-bound) should be considered at risk. Still, there are modern technologies and methods to help prevent even these individuals from wandering.

The following should be considered for inclusion in the resident’s care plan:

  • Installing or upgrading door and window locks and security systems
  • Surveillance cameras in and around the facility
  • The use of locating technologies like GPS, Bluetooth, radio frequency, and Wi-Fi
  • Alarms, sensors, and monitors that can detect movement or presence in sensitive areas
  • Human security personnel in and around the residence
  • The use of distraction and redirection strategies like music and animal therapy
  • Implementing more activities for residents to keep them occupied and less prone to boredom
  • Exercise groups can help residents expend their energies safely
  • Giving residents identification cards or labels to wear on their persons in case they get lost

Holding Nursing Homes Accountable for Injuries

Facilities are tasked with taking steps to ensure the health and safety of their residents. This means making reasonable efforts to supervise residents so they don’t wander around or away from the facility and get injured or killed.

If wandering or elopement has occurred, and the resident has been harmed as a result, this will be a strong indicator of nursing home negligence. Facilities often fail to enact safety protocols for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • A desire to increase profits by refusing to spend money to establish or upgrade their security and monitoring systems
  • Lack of nursing home staff, which could be due to having too many residents and not enough staff members to care for them
  • Inexperienced staff who leave residents unguarded, don’t check up on residents often enough and don’t know about the dangers and risks of wandering and elopement
  • Failure to respond to past incidents of wandering and elopement by adopting safety protocols

The prevention methods listed above are only a few suggestions, and not every facility will necessarily be expected to implement them.

Instead, the exact strategies that a residence should adopt will need to be taken into account:

  • The specific needs and conditions of each resident
  • The presence of any potential hazards in the facility
  • The nature and location of the facility (including, for instance, whether it is in proximity to a high-risk environment like a busy highway)

What Compensation May Be Available in a Nursing Home Elopement Case?

A facility whose negligence causes harm to a resident may be held liable for the victim’s:

  • Past and future medical bills, including for ambulance, surgery, hospitalization, adaptive medical equipment, physical therapy, and more
  • Pain and suffering and mental anguish
  • Disfigurement and disability
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Wrongful death

Don’t Delay Taking Action to Help Your Loved One

If your family member suffered injury from nursing home wandering, it’s time to explore your legal options. We believe a victim and their family should not bear the financial and personal burden of suffering an injury because of a nursing home’s negligence.

There are also strict deadlines to pursue a personal injury or wrongful death claim against a nursing home. Reach out to Rikard & Protopapas today to seek justice. Use our online contact form or call 803-978-6111 to speak to our team.

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