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Letting patients wander out of nursing homes a top form of neglect

If you follow the news, you’ve undoubtedly heard of shocking instances of abuse and neglect in nursing homes and similar facilities. Tragically, the people most likely to be victims of nursing home neglect are those whose medical conditions make them easy targets -- people with cognitive or memory limitations, developmental disabilities, mental illnesses and problems communicating.

In each and every case, the victim is someone’s loved one. Yet even those who frequent visitors may miss the signs until neglect causes life-altering emotional or physical damage. The law requires facilities not only to provide medical care but also to ensure residents’ safety and security.

Far too often, inadequate supervision, negligent hiring practices, bad policies or even simple greed are responsible for dangerous abuse or neglect. Common examples include medical errors, bedsores, injuries from falls, cruel and unnecessary use of restraints, and even physical or sexual assault. One form of neglect that can be the most difficult for families to understand, however, is called “elopement.”

This isn’t running off to get married. In nursing facilities, elopement is a legal term that means that a nursing home’s staffing or security arrangements are so inadequate that a resident was allowed to wander out of the facility altogether -- and into harm’s way.

Technically, “wandering” also has a specific legal meaning in this area, so let’s be clear on the distinction. In the law, wandering means that a facility has negligently allowed a patient who needs supervision to roam the facility alone. This often results in injuries from falls, asphyxiation from choking, medication overdoses and other problems. This, too, is unfortunately a common form of nursing home neglect.

In an elopement, the patient has wandered outside of the facility -- sometimes into traffic. If they aren’t found quickly, they may suffer from exposure, be injured, fall victim to crime, or even starve. It’s a shocking and dangerous breach of trust, and it virtually always means the nursing home failed to take appropriate precautionary measures.

If your loved one has ever eloped from his or her nursing home, even if everything turned out all right, you need to take immediate, effective action. This is a clear indication the nursing home may not have taken even basic precautionary measures to keep patients safe. If your loved one was injured during an elopement, we would be pleased to discuss your case and help if we possibly can.

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