The Potentially Deadly Dangers of Nursing Home Elopement

May 17th, 2016 by Attorney Roger Weinberg

This isn’t about the hazards associated with sneaking off and getting married. “Elopement” is a term used when a nursing home resident leaves the premises or a safe area without authorization and/or the necessary supervision to do so. Nursing homes are responsible for the safety and well being of their residents, and they need to take steps to prevent elopement. According to Long Term Living,

  • 10% of lawsuits involving nursing homes concern elopement,
  • 70% of elopement-related claims involve the death of a resident, and
  • 80% of the cases involved a resident who had prior incidences of elopement or attempted elopements.

The most common causes of these elopement-related deaths are being struck by a vehicle, exposure to heat or cold and drowning. The resident may not be properly dressed, and if the person falls or simply wanders long enough in extreme weather he or she could be seriously injured or killed.

Nursing home policies and practices should specify procedures for monitoring, managing and supervising residents who are at risk for elopement in order to minimize the risk of elopement and its potentially life-threatening results.

  • There should be ongoing assessment to determine which residents may be at the greatest risk for elopement.
  • There should be interventions by staff to lower the chances of elopement, consistent with the resident’s needs, goals and care plan.
  • The nursing home environment should be considered. Since about half of elopements happen soon after admission, new residents should ideally be placed in rooms away from exits, there needs to be adequate oversight; staff should be aware of the resident’s risks, and unusual behavior or wandering patterns should be documented.
  • Security monitors and activation alarms should be used consistently and properly. Turning off these alarms even for a short time could greatly increase the chance of elopement.
  • If elopement is attempted, the root cause should be determined so appropriate action can be taken to prevent another attempt.

If an elopement does occur, the nursing home should be prepared to take action to minimize the risk to a resident who has left the facility.

  • Photographs of residents should be available to provide to law enforcement and employees involved in a search.
  • A plan for thoroughly searching the facility and grounds should be in place and executed when the time comes.
  • There should be guidelines for notifying families, the physician, the director of nursing, the administrator and local law enforcement.
  • Nursing homes should have periodic elopement drills to train employees and measure the effectiveness of the facility’s policies, protocols and practices.

The possibility of elopement should come as no surprise to the management of a nursing home. The facility may be committing negligence if a resident is injured or killed due to elopement if they have failed to take appropriate steps:

  • Have proper procedures in place to identify those most likely to try to leave the facility
  • Take proper steps to keep residents safe and within the facility and its grounds
  • Take necessary action to find them as quickly as possible in case a resident leaves without authorization.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury or death because a Maryland nursing home didn’t take proper steps to prevent an elopement or take proper actions after one took place, we can help you address the situation and hold those responsible accountable for their actions. At the Law Offices of Roger S. Weinberg, you’ll find compassionate support and experienced advocates to help your family through the tough times. Call 410-825-3161 today to schedule a free consultation.

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