Our nursing home attorneys at Buckfire & Buckfire, P.C. handle cases involving wandering patients and elopement in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers. Wandering can be a safe and healthy behavior for some nursing home residents, especially when it involves wandering through the hallways to reduce stress, for exercise, or for activity.  Many residents are encouraged to wander inside the nursing home for those purposes.

However, wandering and elopement at Michigan nursing homes can become very dangerous and even deadly. Elopement occurs when a resident successfully leaves the nursing facility undetected and unsupervised and enters into harm’s way.  When a patient elopes or wanders from a nursing home and is injured or dies, it can give rise to a claim for nursing home neglect.

Types of Nursing Home Elopement 

Wandering and elopement from Michigan nursing homes can be divided into several different classifications.  Below are a few common classifications:

  • Wandering
  • Environmentally cued wandering
  • Reminiscent/fantasy wandering
  • Tactile wandering
  • Recreational Wandering
  • Agitated purposeful wandering

Who Is At Risk For Elopement From Nursing Homes?

Some patients should be classified as “chronic” wanderers, because they have successfully wandered away from the nursing home several times. “Chronic” wanderers should be given special supervision from the nursing home staff.  In fact, Michigan nursing homes should run proper assessments of each and every resident to classify who is at risk to elope from the facility.

A recent review of nursing home elopement claims found that “80% of elopement cases involved residents described as “chronic” wanderers. When proper precautions are not taken by the nursing home, it can result in severe injuries and even death of a patient.

Factors For Resident Wandering and Elopement in Michigan Nursing Homes

Several factors contribute to both wandering patients and elopement.  These include:

  • Agitation, anxiety, boredom, or stress
  • Disorientation to surroundings
  • Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease affecting judgement
  • Past patterns of the resident
  • Unfamiliar environment
  • Recent medication change
  • Left alone
  • Change in schedule/ routine
  • Spatially disoriented to familiar cues
  • Demonstrates desire to engage in a past practice (ie, visiting a relative) or expresses desire to “go home”

Elopement and wandering away from the Michigan facility often occurs frequently in the first few weeks after a resident is initially placed into a nursing home.  This is often attributed to the change in settings and the desire to return back home.  Monitoring by the nursing home staff during this initial period is essential to prevent resident elopement.

Procedures Necessary for the Safety of Wandering and Elopement Patients

Michigan nursing homes who have dementia patients must provide the barriers necessary to keep confused or agitated patients safe, while maintaining safe free movement necessary for patients without any risk factors. Statistics state that around 31% of nursing home residents with dementia wander at least once. Wandering and elopement away from the facility can lead to serious injury and even death. A well-run, safe nursing home will have a policies and procedure in place to identify patients at risk of wandering due to dementia symptoms.

Procedures should include:

  • methods for assessing risks
  • individualized treatment plans to prevent wandering
  • staff training to ensure all team members observe the best practices for safety

Assessing A Resident’s Risk For Walking Away

Assessing a Michigan nursing home patient’s risk for wandering and elopement away can be challenging at times because wandering can be defined in numerous ways.  However, several tools are available to determine an individual’s tendency to wander. These tools are concisely described below:

  • Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory (CMAI): a seven-point rating scale used to assess the frequency with which the patient displays any of 29 behaviors associated with agitation, a risk factor for wandering.
  • The Rating Scale for Aggressive Behavior in the Elderly (RAGE): the observer will rate the frequency with which the patient exhibits any of 21 aggressive behaviors during a 3-day period.
  • The Neuropsychiatric Inventory (NPI): a questionnaire used to score the frequency, severity, and distress associated with 10 to 12 behavioral areas common in dementia.
  • The Revised Algase Wandering Scale (RAWS): RAWS was designed specifically to assess an individual’s risk of wandering and comes in two forms:
    1. The community version (RAWS-CV): includes 37 areas that fall within five subscales. The rating scale is 1 to 5, with 1 indicating “never or unable” and 5 indicating “always.”
    2. LTC version (RAWS-LTC): a 1 to 4 scale (1=not a wanderer; 4=problem wanderer) to score patients on 19 areas allocated into three subscales: persistent walking, spatial disorientation, and eloping. Protecting Wandering Patients

Safe and free movement is necessary for risk free patients, but nursing homes and assisted living facilities need to have alternative barriers to keep patients who have dementia, or may be confused or agitated safe. These patients can be identified by a caregiver, nursing home doctor or medical team who properly administer one of the above listed procedures. If a nursing home does not provide the proper means of protection for wandering patients, serious injuries and even death can occur.

Preventing Resident Elopement in Michigan Nursing Homes

There are many preventative measures a Michigan nursing home can take to prevent patients from wandering away.  These preventative measures include:

  • Provide an adequate number of staff to supervise residents.
  • Screen patients at the time of admission to assure the facility is capable of caring for them.
  • Train staff on how to identify patients who may elope — and how to re-direct them.
  • Use window and door alarms.
  • Have contingency plans in place to locate missing patients.

Our experienced attorneys represent residents and their families in lawsuits involving wandering and elopement. A patient who wanders or elopes from a facility due to improper security or under qualified staff is a victim of nursing home neglect. One who suffers unnecessary sedation or restraint, or threats from staff is a victim of nursing home neglect. In either case, facilities not held responsible for their dangerous choices will continue to harm elderly patients until they are legally accountable. These lawsuits seek compensation for the resident and the family for the injuries suffered. They also serve to prevent such a tragedy from happening to another resident in the future.

Speak to a Michigan Attorney About Wandering and Elopement at Nursing Homes

Nursing home staff must properly asses a resident for the potential risk of elopement based upon factors noted above.  The nursing home must have an elopement plan for high risk residents including methods for assessing risks, individual treatment plans to prevent wandering, and staff training to ensure all team members observe the best practices for safety.  The physical facility will also be built with safe elopement prevention in mind, including security locks on all key doors, secure elevators and monitoring equipment, and door alarms.

If a loved one has wandered or eloped from a Michigan nursing home, call our office now to speak with one of our experienced attorneys. We will start working on your case immediately and gather the necessary evidence to prove and win your case. We will also get you the real answers as to what happened and how it happened.

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