What is elopement? For many of us, the only time we've ever heard the term "elope" is in connection with a very happy event, when two people who are in love decide to go off and get married. Eloping often refers to traveling some place and getting married as opposed to having a large wedding ceremony.
However, "elopement" also has another meaning. "Elopement" refers to when a nursing home resident leaves the nursing home unattended. Recently, a 92 year old woman was found dead outside of the Woodside Senior Living in Bedford, Ohio. She was supposed to be in a locked memory care unit. Here at The Dickson Firm, we are currently representing multiple families whose loved one was allowed to elope out of the nursing home where they lived.
Nursing homes are legally obligated, pursuant to federal law, to provide their residents with "adequate supervision" to prevent accidents. They are legally obligated, pursuant to the law in Ohio, the Nursing Home Resident's Bill of Rights, to provide the residents with a safe environment. If a nursing home is taking care of a resident who is not able to leave the facility safely on their own, and this applies to most if not all nursing home residents, then the nursing has a legal obligation to make sure the nursing home residents do not leave the nursing home unattended. This can be accomplished through a variety of ways. First and foremost, nursing homes should have locked doors so that residents are not able to simply walk outside, especially in cold weather. These doors can be secured through a variety of ways, so that only someone with a keycard or some other access can open these doors. Residents can be fitted with wanderguards, which are devices that can be put on their ankle or their wrist, which alarm when they go near a door.
Nursing homes are legally required to perform a comprehensive assessment of each and every one of their residents, and thereafter, to prepare for those residents a comprehensive care plan. If a resident cannot walk around safely on their own unattended, then the care plan must include interventions to prevent the resident from walking around unattended. Nursing homes use alarms, which alert the staff when a resident, who is not supposed to walk around unattended, is trying to get up from their chair or their bed. These alarms come in the form of pressure pads that go under the mattress or the chair cushion, and also alarms that clip to the resident's clothing so that when they get up a string pulls a magnet off of the base of the alarm causing the alarm to sound. Residents can be placed in a common area so that the staff can keep an eye on them. Nursing homes have a legal obligation to monitor their residents, and to keep them safe. They have a legal obligation to keep their residents from falling, and to keep their residents from leaving the nursing home unattended. Very often tragic consequences occur when a resident is allowed to leave a facility unattended.
How do you keep your loved ones safe? We recommend that you visit them often and at different times of the day. We also recommend that you don't take any event for granted. For example, if the nursing home tells you that your loved one has had a fall, but not to worry because the person didn't suffer any injury, the question then becomes what are they doing to prevent the next fall. If a resident has had a fall, that means they were unattended. That means they were left to walk on their own without supervision. This is not okay. This is not acceptable. If a resident cannot walk safely on their own they must be attended when they walk. Staff can walk with them and monitor them. Staff can use what is called a "gait belt". This is a device that goes around the resident's waist and enables the staff person to grab the resident if they start to fall and lower them to the ground so they don't suffer injury.
Residents who need attention, and who are able to walk, should still walk on a regular basis. They should still be active. They should still receive physical therapy. Residents who are able to walk should definitely not be left to sit or lay down all day. This is not healthy. But, when they walk they need to be attended.
In order for the nursing home to provide their residents with adequate supervision to prevent accidents, they must have enough staff. All too often, nursing home cut the staff to save money and increase profits. Nursing homes are legally obligated to have an adequate number of staff to provide their residents with appropriate care. This means having an adequate number of staff to provide their residents with adequate supervision at all times.
So, if someone you love is in a nursing home, and they have suffered a fall, you need to ask the nursing home what they are doing to prevent the next fall. What interventions are they putting in place. Do they use alarms? If a nursing home does not use alarms, you need to ask them how they are providing adequate supervision. What are they doing in the evening. If you have a nurse and a couple of aides who are charged with keeping thirty (30) residents safe in the middle of the night, how are they keeping an eye on all of them if they're not using alarms?
If someone you love has been neglected or abused in a nursing home, call The Dickson Firm, any time, day or night 1 (800) OHIO-LAW we would be happy to talk with you and help you in any way that we can.