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Managing Elopement Risks in Nursing Homes

“Elopement” is the term that nursing home professionals use when talking about the tendency of some residents—especially those with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias—to wander off the premises. About half of all nursing home residents have some form of dementia. Because these people typically have difficulties with memory, planning, orientation, emotional control, and communication, they are especially vulnerable in the unfamiliar areas outside the facility.

And that’s why long-term care facility managers have sleepless nights. Those who manage the best facilities worry about residents’ wellbeing. Those who manage less reputable nursing homes worry about the risk of lawsuits if the procedures they have put in place to control elopement ever came to light.

Best Practices for Controlling Nursing Home Elopement Risks in Pennsylvania

How do you identify a dangerous nursing home? One way is to see if it is using the worst possible methods to manage the risk of resident elopement. The signs of an abusive facility are latches on the outside of the residents’ doors to confine them to their rooms, the use of physical restraints to trap residents in their beds or wheelchairs, and the widespread distribution of sedative or anti-psychotic drugs to keep residents docile. If you observe any of these practices while visiting a relative in her nursing home, you should be very alarmed. Each of these tactics increase the overall danger to residents.

The best nursing homes have a multi-layered strategy in place to keep residents safe and secure within the facility. The following are components of an anti-elopement plan that should increase your confidence in the nursing home:

  • Adequate staffing levels with personnel who are well-trained and dedicated to adult care. The staff should receive special training on managing elopement risks.
  • A formal sign-out system for releasing residents into a responsible adult’s care for a trip outside the facility.
  • Entrances and exits that are secured outside normal visiting hours and are adequately monitored at all times.
  • The use of closed-circuit cameras where appropriate.
  • A designated area where residents can move about for exercise, recreation, or socialization. This can be an interior area or an enclosed exterior courtyard.
  • Window enclosures that do not open far enough for people to leave.
  • Alarms—possibly silent alarms—on external doors and windows, elevators, and stairwells.
  • Closer supervision and more frequent monitoring of resident’s whereabouts for those seen as potential elopement risks.
  • Tracking devices embedded in bracelets or footwear for residents who are seen as potential elopement risks.
  • A comprehensive response plan in case a resident is found to have left the premises. This should include notification of law enforcement, the resident’s family, the resident’s physician, and administrative staff.

When Bad Things Happen

No set of safeguards can be guaranteed 100 percent effective. A facility that implements all the best practices for controlling elopement may not bear any legal liability if a resident manages to bypass all the security systems in place.

The greater worry, of course, should be about those Pennsylvania nursing homes that have not taken all reasonable and appropriate safeguards to control elopement. If you have a friend or family member in a nursing home, find out what measures are in place to prevent residents from wandering off from the facility. If you believe that your loved one is not being cared for safely in a Pennsylvania residential living center, call Schmidt Kramer at (717) 888-8888 toll-free to talk with one of our nursing home abuse attorneys in Harrisburg. We offer FREE, confidential case reviews. Let our personal injury attorneys suggest some options for how to proceed in a manner that will seek justice on behalf of your loved one and will end the risk for other residents of this dangerous Pennsylvania nursing home.