Nursing Home Negligence/Elopement and Failure to Restrain in New Jersey and New York
When a nursing home resident wanders away from the safety and protection of the nursing home or care facility, they become vulnerable to many dangers. Nursing homes are required by federal and state laws to provide adequate safety and security measures designed to prevent residents from wandering off, an action referred to as elopement. Unfortunately, profits are often given priority over the resident’s safety and quality of care.
If your family member was injured because of nursing home negligence you should consult with a New York or New Jersey nursing home abuse attorney. The legal team at Metro Law has extensive experience working with nursing home neglect cases and is committed to helping victims of elder neglect and abuse.
What is Nursing Home Elopement?
Many families make the tough decision to place their aging relatives in a nursing home or long-term care facility to ensure they live in a safe and protected environment. Sadly, many of these facilities fail to properly observe and monitor their residents due to insufficient training, overworked caregivers, or understaffing.
Elopement and wandering are often the results of a lack of supervision in an elder care facility. It puts the residents in immediate danger by exposing them to serious injury and death.
What is the Difference Between Wandering and Elopement?
Nursing home staff generally identify a resident leaving the grounds as elopement. Alternatively, wandering is usually identified as a patient walking away from a protected environment within the facility to another room, floor, or unprotected area meant only for staff.
Residents who are allowed to wander unsupervised inside the facility could be able to escape or “elope” to the parking lot, and find themselves near a busy street or another dangerous area where they can sustain serious injuries.
Is Elderly Elopement Common in New Jersey and New York?
Almost 10% of all nursing home claims are the result of some type of elopement in New Jersey and in New York. Research has shown that an estimated 35,000 residents wander away from their nursing homes every year in the United States.
It was also calculated that between 13% and 24% of senior citizens undergo instances of wandering or elopement. Wandering or elopement occurs in nearly 60% of dementia patients. This is just one of the reasons that it is vital for care facilities and nursing homes to take appropriate precautions to ensure the safety and security of their residents.
Family members expect these facilities to have a plan of action in place that prevents residents from leaving the property without direct and adequate supervision. By properly staffing their security personnel, elder care facilities can prevent almost all cases of elopement due to neglect and the serious injuries and fatalities that often follow.
Three Types of Wandering Behaviors in Nursing Home Residents
The nursing home staff can only implement safe care plans for residents who wander or elope by understanding what is motivating their behavior. The most common types of wandering and elopement include:
- Aimless wandering: The resident moves around the facility with no particular purpose, often caused by discomfort, confusion, boredom, or high levels of stress.
- Purposeful wandering: The resident wanders with the deliberate intent of leaving the facility in an attempt to go home, find family members, visit friends, or seek medical care and attention.
- Reminiscent wandering: The resident is unfamiliar with or confused by their surroundings. This is most often seen in patients with memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia.
Causes of Elopement and Wandering
It is not uncommon for the aging residents of a nursing home to have cognitive issues that cause them to become easily disoriented and confused. This uncertainty leads to elopement and wandering, especially if the facility does not have adequate safety measures in place.
- Cognitive Dysfunction
According to the National Institute on Aging and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 5.5 million senior citizens suffer from Alzheimer’s disease nationwide. Elderly nursing home residents who suffer from either Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, no longer have the ability to process, recognize, or understand their surroundings.They might suddenly think that they are in a foreign country they visited 30 years ago or that they have to go home and feed their dog that passed away when they were nine years old. In some instances, patients will try to contact a family member that died a long time ago or think it’s time for them to get dressed and go to work.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that cases of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, get worse as time goes on. The nursing home has a duty and a responsibility to ensure that these patients are kept safe and given proper supervision so they do not elope or wander out into the streets surrounding the facility unattended.
- Physical Health
In many cases, nursing home residents that experience cognitive dysfunction are in very good physical health and have the ability to move about on their own.Without the need for a walker or wheelchair, these residents are at a much greater risk for eloping or wandering since they have the physical strength necessary to walk out of the nursing home on their own and wander into the street.Other possible reasons that a nursing home resident might wander away from a protected area include:
- Annoyance or displeasure with their environment
- Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia
- Sleep disorder
- Changes to their medication
- Being over or undermedicated
- Unmet emotional, psychosocial, or psychological needs
Can Elopement and Wandering in Nursing Homes Be Prevented?
Due to the fact that nursing home patients can sustain serious injuries when they elope or wander without supervision, it is important to stop these behaviors from happening in the first place. Along with administering certain tests designed to determine which residents are at the greatest risk for wandering and elopement, it is also important to have proper procedures in place for when it occurs.
- Appropriate Training to Prevent Neglect: All nursing home staff should be thoroughly and properly trained in order to be able to adequately handle cases of elopement and ensure that security measures are in place. Staff should also remain observant to make sure that residents do not leave the facility without direct supervision and proper exit procedures.The best way to stop nursing home elopement is to guarantee that staff has been properly trained and remains watchful of their residents at all times. It is critical for them to have a basic understanding of the residents’ daily activities and habits.
- Understanding Nursing Home Residents’ Needs and Conditions: The staff in any care facility should also be acquainted with the residents’ individual physical and mental conditions. Residents with certain mental conditions will have an increased probability of elopement, so it is important that staff members are aware of these conditions and understand that these patients need to be closely supervised. Cases of elopement are frequently the result of too little supervision on the part of the nursing home staff.
- Alarm Systems and Procedures: Facility exits and entrances that are not used by the patients should be either securely locked or equipped with an alarm system. Although it is essential for staff to closely monitor the residents, it is equally important for them to make sure that the alarms on all exits are in proper working order in the event that a patient manages to slip past them.
Staff should immediately respond to any alarms that are triggered, warning them that a patient has tried to leave the building without their knowledge.
Other methods for preventing wandering and elopement include:
- Installing a tracking system for residents.
- Making sure that all windows are equipped with working locks.
- Monitoring all exits, either in person or by video surveillance.
If you are in the process of researching, or already have an elderly relative in a nursing home or care facility, request their procedures and policies with regard to elopement and wandering from management.
If you think that your loved one was left unsupervised and was able to wander off of the nursing home grounds resulting in an accident with injuries, a New York elopement and wandering attorney can help you gather all of the necessary evidence and conduct a thorough investigation to ensure their continued safety and financial security.
The Dangers of Wandering and Elopement
When nursing home residents are able to wander away from the premises, they are exposed to many serious dangers, including:
- Slip and fall accidents
- Assault and robbery
- Exposure to the elements
- Pedestrian accidents
Some factors that can increase the chances of elopement occurring in a nursing home include:
- Being understaffed, which leads to residents being improperly monitored.
- Failing to provide sufficient training to members of staff.
- Malfunctioning or inadequate electronic security devices such as electronic restraints and door alarms.
Who Is at Risk of Wandering?
Long-term care facilities often house patients with memory issues, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. These residents are at a heightened risk of elopement.
Facilities are required to develop an effective care plan that pinpoints early warning signs that a patient is likely to wander or attempt to go home.
Residents who are significantly at risk for wandering and elopement include those who:
- Do not recognize familiar places or forget where they are.
- Forget they live in a nursing facility and regularly attempt to “go home.”
- Frequently talk about going to school, church, their childhood home, or work.
- Have difficulty recognizing places they see daily, such as the bedroom, dining room, or bathroom.
- Exhibiting confusion regarding the whereabouts of friends, children, and other family members.
- Performing repetitive motions or exhibiting other signs of restlessness.
- Repeatedly doing and re-doing chores or hobbies such as making the bed or moving items around their room.
- Nervous or anxious activities in crowded places including shopping malls, restaurants, or the facility’s common areas.
Nursing Home Neglect and Elopement in New Jersey and New York
When a nursing home or care facility fails to provide and enforce the appropriate security measures that prevent residents from wandering, it could be held liable for nursing home neglect.
It is also considered nursing home neglect and elopement if the staff does not react in a timely manner when an alarm or other security device signals a wandering resident. If you are concerned that a nursing facility or any of its staff have been negligent in any way with a resident’s care, it might be necessary to file a lawsuit holding them accountable for their actions or inaction to prevent the negligence from reoccurring.
Nursing Home Wandering and Elopement Lawsuits in New Jersey and New York
There are specific regulations and laws that nursing homes are required to follow. If a nursing home or elder care facility fails to adequately care for or protect its residents, serious injuries and even death can occur.
When this happens, the injured victim or a family member acting on their behalf can bring a lawsuit against the nursing home. By filing a suit, the injured party will submit a claim for the damages they sustained due to the facility’s negligence.
At Metro Law, we strongly recommend that you hire an experienced and aggressive New York nursing home neglect and abuse lawyer to handle your case, rather than seeking damages on your own. These claims often revolve around complicated legal matters that are time-consuming to learn and difficult to understand.
In most cases, your lawyer will examine your medical records and request incident reports from the nursing home. They may also consult with professionals, such as nurses and doctors since their specialized knowledge and opinions could be beneficial to your claim. These experts will also testify on your behalf if your case goes to trial.
Financial compensation for damages could include payment of all current and future medical bills related to injuries from the incident, and the pain and suffering that the victim endured as well. Filing a lawsuit does not mean that you are definitely going to trial. In fact, many nursing home neglect and abuse cases settle long before the trial phase is reached.
If a settlement offer is made, your New Jersey personal injury attorney will review the offer with you and tell you if it is fair and reasonable. Whether or not you accept the settlement offer is ultimately your decision.
If you believe that your elderly or disabled loved one has suffered injuries as a result of nursing home negligence caused by elopement in New Jersey or New York, contact Metro Law today at 973-344-6587 or (718) 984-2626 to schedule a free consultation.