Three days after Christmas in 2017, Vance Perry was admitted to the V.A. Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. Perry suffered from mental health issues which caused confusion, disorientation, severe memory problems and other cognitive difficulties. The VA, like private nursing homes, should have done a complete assessment to determine if he was at risk of wandering off (also known as “elopement”).
A facility’s duty to prevent mental health and memory care patients from wandering off doesn’t just include their stay at the facility. When discharged, a nursing home or hospital has a duty to make sure that the patient safely makes it out of the hospital.
Two days after being admitted, Vance Perry was discharged. He was supposed to go home to family who could watch and care for him. Apparently, however, he was allowed to simply walk out of the hospital.
He never made it to his family’s home.
Even after the hospital learned that Perry never made it to his family’s home, they didn’t contact authorities or mount a search effort. The outdoor temperatures in the cold Wisconsin winter that day were in the single digits.
That night the temperature dropped to -6. When he left the hospital, Perry had no winter clothes and no gloves.
Vance Perry was founded dead the next morning in a parking garage. He froze to death.
Three years later after not getting satisfactory answers or help from the VA, Perry’s family filed a lawsuit. Although the VA never admitted fault, this year that suit was settled for $1 million.
Nursing Homes Are Liable When a Patient Elopes
Some shocking statistics reveal that approximately 20 percent of nursing home patients with dementia are reported to have wandered out of the facility without an escort at least once. My own mother managed to leave a nursing home in Walnut Creek, California unattended. Thankfully, first responders quickly found and returned her.
Nursing homes and memory care units have a responsibility to protect their residents, particularly those suffering from dementia and mental health issues. This includes the duty to prevent elopement.
A nursing home elopement occurs when a resident leaves the facility unattended and without the knowledge of the staff. To establish nursing home liability for elopement, lawyers for the victim must prove three things:
- The nursing home did not meet the required standard of care required to prevent the elopement.
- The nursing home did not respond appropriately after the elopement occurred. (Mounting a search effort, contacting authorities and family members)
- The patient suffered an injury from the elopement.
The 1987 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act for nursing homes (OBRA) requires that residents of nursing homes receive high quality care that will result in their achieving or maintaining their "highest practicable" physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being. This includes requirements that nursing homes identify residents at risk for wandering and develop individualized care plans to prevent elopement.
As shown in Vance Perry’s case, this duty includes ensuring that dementia patients are safely discharged and not just allowed to walk out the door without assistance.
There is no excuse for a dementia patient being able to wander out the door of a facility. Nursing homes and memory care facilities have a duty to:
- Assess all dementia patients and those with cognitive disabilities for risk of elopement
- Develop procedures to prevent at risk patients from being able to wander away
- Install door alarms or devices to prevent or impede patients from being able to wander away undetected
- Provide training to identify patients at risk of elopement
- Provide training to respond when a patient does elope
- Have procedures to mount a search effort, notify family and first responders
Failure to take the above steps is a recipe for disaster. We have seen elopement cases result in frostbite, death, a drowning and in one instance, an alligator attack.
For more information, visit our nursing home neglect information page. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online, by email [hidden email] or by phone 833-201-1555. There is no obligation. Cases accepted on a contingency fee basis meaning no fees or costs unless we first recover money on your behalf.
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