Safety in Nursing Homes: The Problem of Patients who wander or leave the facility

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A nursing home patient who has all of her faculties and can walk independently should be encouraged to be up and moving about freely even as a resident of a nursing home or long-term care facility.  Many patients in nursing homes or long-term care facilities have dementia or other problems that make wandering around the facility or leaving the facility very dangerous to the health and well-being of the nursing home patient.  A recent study concluded that up to 31% of nursing home patients may get confused and lost while wandering around the nursing home or may leave when the nursing home when it is not safe to do so.

Nursing home patients with dementia or confusion are at high risk for nursing home injury if they wander around the nursing home without assistance and supervision.  Leaving the nursing home under these circumstances is called “elopement.”  Leaving the facility without assistance and supervision is the most dangerous type of wandering activity.  This activity can result in serious injury including hip fracture, head injury, exposure to the cold weather, or even death.

To prevent wandering by nursing home patients with dementia, a nursing home or long-term care facility must assess a nursing home patient’s tendency to wander or try to leave the facility.  The assessment should be performed on all nursing home patients, even those who appear unlikely to wander or leave.  The nursing home should then development specific and personal measures to prevent a nursing home patient from becoming injured.  These measures include the nursing staff meet the needs of the nursing home patient such as hunger, thirst, and urge to go to the bathroom.  In addition, the nursing home staff should maintain a comfortable environment and appropriate noise level.  These measures tend to lessen a nursing home patient’s tendency to wander.

Leaving the facility or elopement is even more of a threat to the patient’s safety.  The nursing home must have in place a plan for dealing with the emergency situation if a nursing home patient leaves the facility.  This should include a formal search procedure and notification of law enforcement.  The nursing home should maintain a current photograph of the nursing home patient so as to assist in the search.  This situation is very urgent.  Statistics suggest that there is a 25% fatality rate if nursing home patient is not found within 24 hours.

Good and appropriate assessment and intervention on the part of a nursing home or long-term care facility can ensure the safety of a nursing home patient who has a tendency to wander.  If you have more questions, please feel free to call Dan Pruitt Law Firm.

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