When an older person’s physical abilities remain, but their cognitive abilities fade such that they can no longer consistently recognize dangers and keep themselves safe, they are at risk of wandering off injuries or death.  Nursing homes must protect residents at risk of wandering off.

What is elopement?

Wandering off—sometimes called “elopement”—refers to a nursing home or hospital resident  leaving their room, the facility, or another safe, monitored space and being exposed to the risks and dangers of the outside world, without assistance or monitoring.

The North American Nursing Diagnosis Association (NANDA) defines wandering as “ meandering, aimless, or repetitive locomotion that exposes the individual to harm; frequently incongruent with boundaries, limits, or obstacles.”[1]

While “wandering” sounds innocent enough, the results can be deadly: exposure, freezing to death, dehydration, drowning, wandering into a busy road and being hit by a car or truck, falling and hitting your head or breaking a bone, falling out of windows or down stairs . . . the list goes on.

When a nursing home fails to adequately evaluate the risk of elopement, or address the known risk to prevent it, the nursing home may be liable for the harm that results.  Ohio law, as well as Ohio and federal regulations, require adequate, regular assessments of mental ability, elopement risk, and safety.

If you would like to discuss your loved one’s situation, injuries, or death at a nursing home caused by wandering off, call us at 216-777-8856.

Is Wandering Always Dangerous?

“Wandering” in the sense of strolling or moving about a facility can be a healthy, safe behavior for some residents.  Residents may be encouraged to engage in, and benefit from, strolling through the hallways for exercise activity or to reduce stress.

When a resident leaves the nursing home, however, or gets into an area that is not safe for them (such as a stairway or high edge like a balcony), wandering can be deadly.  Elopement occurs when a resident successfully leaves the nursing facility or safe unit undetected and unsupervised.

The risk of wandering is not limited to people who can walk or use a walker.  If someone is able to propel themselves in a wheelchair or other ways, they can be at risk for elopement.

Need Answers About Your Situation?

Do you have questions about a possible Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect case? Click below to start an investigation with us. We'll help you get answers.

or keep reading below...

Risk Factors for Dangerous Nursing Home Resident Elopement

Residents can be at significant risk for elopement when they experience:

  • Agitation, anxiety, boredom, or stress
  • Disorientation to surroundings
  • Cognitive issues affecting judgment, such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease

The resident’s own past behavior can be a red flag or warning sign for elopement, too, such as prior wandering off that did not lead to injury.  If someone has eloped but been recovered safely, that means they are at risk of elopement and that risk must be addressed by the nursing home.

Disorientation can result from cognitive changes, issue, or (frequently) when they have just recently moved into the nursing home.  The first few weeks after moving in are a frequent time for elopement, whether due to disorientation, change in setting, or the desire to return to their prior home.  Nursing home staff must evaluate and monitor residents during this time to prevent residents from wandering out of the unit or facility and being injured.

Wandering can also be triggered when a resident is thirsty or hungry, or needs to use the bathroom.  They start off to meet that need, become confused or disoriented, and wander.  Residents may be trying to find their home or other familiar surroundings. These incidents can be traumatic for the resident.  Residents can become defensive, feel trapped, or otherwise react negatively to being guided back to the facility or their rooms.  Staff training to help them is critical.

What Can Nursing Homes do to Prevent Wandering Off Injuries?

The first thing every nursing home must do is an adequate assessment of the resident’s needs—at admission, and periodically thereafter—as required by federal regulation § 483.20 (“resident assessment”).  This includes identifying cognitive, mood, and behavior patterns, and “develop[ing] a comprehensive care plan . . . to meet a resident’s medical, nursing, and mental and psychosocial needs.”

Nursing homes cannot use restraints on residents simply to make managing the residents easier; restraints must be medically necessary under § 483.13 (“Resident behavior and facility practices”).  Under that rule, the “resident has the right to be free from any physical or chemical restraints imposed for purposes of discipline or convenience, and not required to treat the resident’s medical symptoms.”  So nursing homes must provide safe spaces for residents at risk of elopement so they can interact socially and enjoy their life.

Nursing homes can reduce the risk of wandering and elopement injury by implementing appropriate policy and procedure, staff training, and quality assurance/improvement activity.  Every nursing home must have an elopement plan for high risk residents.  This can include a bracelet on the wrist or ankle identifying the resident as a fall risk and placing photos of the high risk residents at all exits and doorways.  Residents can be provided personal alarms to notify the staff if they attempt to leave the facility.  Staff should be trained and required to regularly monitor at-risk residents to prevent them from wandering from the facility.

Doors at the facility should have alarms to notify the staff if a patient is leaving out of a side door or emergency exit.  Many times these alarms are disabled of simply do not work.  Other times, the doors are not securely closed and locked.

The tools available include diverting agitated or wandering residents, such as:

  • Familiar objects
  • Hobbies
  • Pet therapy
  • Reading/music/movies
  • Family, volunteer, group
  • Change of staff
  • Rocking
  • Social interaction
  • Walks/regular exercise
  • Orientation/reorientation to unit
  • Purposeful focused activities

Interventions can also include monitoring, such as one-on-one monitoring, medication review (to reduce medication-caused confusion or anxiety), escorts and sitters, and regular location checks.

Even the design of nursing home facilities—or dementia units—can be done to reduce the risk of elopement, such as:

  • Unit-specific color schemes that make the unit familiar, versus other units
  • Easily understood location maps so residents can orient themselves when confused
  • Circular unit design, so wandering residents remain in the unit when walking forward
  • Clearly marked signs that can be easily read
  • Clearly marked resident’s room
  • Orientation boards
  • Offer a quiet room
  • Camouflaged doors

There are tools that can be used to properly assess the risk of a resident from wandering off. For example, nurses and care providers can utilize assessment exercises like the one below. This tool allows the resident’s mental state, history, and behaviors to be analyzed.

 

Need Answers About Your Situation?

Do you have questions about a possible Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect case? Click below to start an investigation with us. We'll help you get answers.

or keep reading below...

When there is a known risk, nursing homes should implement security protocols such as:

  1. Door alarms to alert staff if a resident is leaving a safe zone or the facility. This can include wrist bracelets so the alarm only sounds for certain, at-risk residents.
  2. Locked units to prevent at-risk residents from wandering off.
  3. Window locks or guards.
  4. Tracking systems for residents, which can include GPS systems to quickly locate residents.
  5. Seclusion rooms.
  6. Search plans, rapid response, team coordination to recover residents quickly and safely

If you would like to discuss your loved one’s situation, injuries, or death at a nursing home, call us at 216-777-8856.  If you would like more information about helping a loved one at risk of wandering off stay safe, see the VA National Center for Patient Safety Toolkit for Patients at Risk of Wandering.

 

How do You prove a Wandering Injury or Death Claim?

The nursing home’s records will reveal the assessments they did, care plans put in place, risk of elopement, and (if the records are accurate and honest), any prior incidences of wandering or elopement.  It will also show interventions, if any, put in place.

Unfortunately, medical records are all too often self-serving and omit facts that are negative for the nursing home.

State inspection records will show whether the nursing home has been cited in the past for failures that could involve elopement or elopement risks.

We also investigate staffing levels versus resident care needs, which can show whether there is a systemic failure to provide enough caregivers to meet needs, like monitoring locations of people a risk for elopement.

We utilize experts, including doctors and nurses, to evaluate potential claims before filing lawsuits to determine whether the assessments and interventions were adequate.  It is possible for a resident to elope without the nursing home being to blame.  We find out and tell you, candidly, whether we believe you have a case.

We also make the nursing home answer questions—called “discovery”—and make caregivers answer questions under oath—called depositions—to fill in the gaps, and show inaccuracies, if any, in the medical records.

If you would like to discuss your loved one’s situation, injuries, or death at a nursing home, call us at 216-777-8856.   You can also read our Nursing Home Lawsuit page for more information on the process, or sign up to start an investigation.

[1] NANDA, Nursing Diagnosis: Definitions and Classifications, 2001-2002, nanda, Philadelphia, PA, 206-207 (2001).

How do I Hire You to be my Nursing Home Wandering Off (Elopement) Lawyer?

The first thing to do is complete the contact form at the bottom of this page. That way, you can put in details that we can review before we schedule a phone call.

You can also call us at 216-777-8856 if you prefer.

You will likely not speak to us immediately, but will schedule a phone or in-person meeting. Why? Because we’re busy working on the important cases other families have entrusted to us. Just like we would not constantly take phone calls when we’re entrusted to work on your case.

You should also gather all the records and papers you have from the medical providers, go back and look for dates, names, and events that happened, and otherwise prepare to discuss the case. We’ll have a meeting and, if it seems like a case we’d be a good fit for, we’ll move into an investigation phase.

Once we’ve investigated, we’ll candidly tell you what we think about what happened, whether the medical provider is to blame, and what we think about the strength of the case.

Fair warning: we only take on clients whose cases we believe have very strong merits. We’re not lazy—the cases are still very complex, difficult, and expensive—but the risk to your family of being drawn into a difficult process with little chance of a positive outcome is not something we do.

Which means when we do take on a case, our reputation tells the other side this is a serious case we believe in.

If for whatever reason we do not take on the case, and we think there is some merit to the case, we’ll try and help you find a lawyer who might take it on.

Nursing Home Wandering Off (Elopement) Articles

nurse

Nurses Charged After Resident Dies From Wandering in Freezing Weather

An article in the Courier reports that a resident of a Northern Ohio nursing home was found dead after she wandered out of the home into bellow freezing temperatures in the snow. Phyllis Campbell was found several yards away from the facility the morning after she wandered out of the nursing home and into freezing cold conditions.states that she was found about eight hours later, and there are criminal charges issued potentially because the nursing home documented checks being done on the resident. The article states that:
Campbell left the building through a set of doors whose alarm should have gone off, the report said. Employees tested the alarm system on the doors the day after Campbell’s death. They found that when the doors were propped open, the alarm did not consistently go off. Propping open those doors was common so staff could freely walk between units, according to the state report. A bracelet Campbell wore also failed to sound an alarm, according to the report. Two state-tested nurse aides said they did not check on Campbell at 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., though checks were documented as being completed, the report said.
Nursing homes often utilize alarms and monitoring bracelets to keep track of residents who may wander off. Often times, residents who are at risk for wandering have a history of wandering. Other times, care providers can assess that someone with out a history can still be at risk because of other indications. When there is a known risk, nursing homes should implement security protocols such as:
  1. Door alarms to alert staff if a resident is leaving a safe zone or the facility. This can include wrist bracelets so the alarm only sounds for certain, at-risk residents.
  2. Locked units to prevent at-risk residents from wandering off.
  3. Window ...
    Read More
Temperatures, cold, freezing

Nursing Home Resident Dies From Exposure

Temperatures, cold, freezingAccording to an article on the Canton Rep.com, a resident of a nursing home in Canton, Ohio was found dead after he wandered out of the Glenwood Care & Rehabilitation, located at 836 34th St. NW. The resident had a history of elopement, and was actually picked up by the police who were unaware that the resident had dementia. The article on the Canton Rep.com states that:
A dementia patient with a history of escape attempts made his way out of a local nursing home, later telling police who found him he wanted to go home to Alliance. What police didn’t know was Mark Billiter had slipped out the care facility where he had lived for years. They drove him as far as they could — to the city limits. He was found dead there two days later.
Nursing homes are supposed to create a safe environment for their residents, which includes keeping them from wandering off. This horrific and tragic incident could have been prevented. The resident’s own past behavior can be a red flag or warning sign for elopement, too, such as prior wandering off that did not lead to injury.  If someone has eloped but been recovered safely, that means they are at risk of elopement and that risk must be addressed by the nursing home. When an older person’s physical abilities remain, but their cognitive abilities fade such that they can no longer consistently recognize dangers and keep themselves safe, they are at risk of wandering off injuries or death.  Nursing homes must protect residents at risk of wandering off. Residents with cognitive issues that affect their judgement are particularly at risk for elopement. This is important to be aware of as you search for potential care facilities for your loved one. Mr. Billliter had a ...
Read More
golden glades entrance

Resident Left to Wander Found Dead

A full 18 hours past before nursing home staff realized one of its residents was missing. Mr. Coleman Feltz was later found face down in a shallow pool of water. An article published in the Naples Daily News describes the incident which began on December 1st, 2015. The article states that:
At some point during the evening of Dec. 1, 2015, Felts walked out of the nursing home. Golden Glades staff realized he was missing at about 9 p.m. A maintenance worker from the assisted living home next door found his body at about 3 p.m. the next day.
Inspectors visited the Golden Glades Nursing and Rehabilitation Center after his death and cited the facility for multiple violations. The violations include not providing enough staff and failure to remove hazards. Mr. Feltz was a 75-year-old Veteran of the Vietnam War and according to the article he had a history of elopement. His family believed that he would be safer at a nursing home, but they were wrong. Residents can be at significant risk for elopement when they experience:
  • Agitation, anxiety, boredom, or stress
  • Disorientation to surroundings
  • Cognitive issues affecting judgment, such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease
The resident’s own past behavior can be a red flag or warning sign for elopement, too, such as prior wandering off that did not lead to injury.  If someone has eloped but been recovered safely, that means they are at risk of elopement and that risk must be addressed by the nursing home. It is extremely important that nursing homes continue to address elopement risks. It could be a matter of life and death. If the nursing home fails to protect your loved one it could only be a matter of time before the situation escalates. According to this article, the nursing home had a ...
Read More
Long hallway with unattended door at the end

Residents Found Outside of Nursing Home in Freezing Temperatures

“Wandering” in the sense of strolling or moving about a facility can be a healthy, safe behavior for some residents.  Residents may be encouraged to engage in, and benefit from, strolling through the hallways for exercise activity or to reduce stress. When a resident leaves the nursing home, however, or gets into an area that is not safe for them (such as a stairway or high edge like a balcony), wandering can be deadly.  Elopement occurs when a resident successfully leaves the nursing facility or safe unit undetected and unsupervised. Three separate incidents were reported to the Missouri Department of Public Health that involved residents wandering outside in freezing and below freezing temperatures. Autumn View Gardens in Creve Coeur, Missouri was investigated according the the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Throughout January 2018, a resident was found outside in freezing temperatures. The article states that:
One resident with Alzheimer’s disease went outside without a coat for 10 minutes on Jan. 3 when the temperature was 27 degrees. The next day, the resident again went outside without a coat or shoes when the temperature was 18 degrees. On Jan. 6, with a temperature of 4 degrees, the resident went outside a third time without coat or shoes. Family members had previously expressed concern about the resident’s tendency to wander.
The facility failed to keep this resident safe, and out of extremely dangerous temperatures. Each of these situations could have very easily become deadly. Luckily, this was not the case. Inspectors came to the facility after the incident and the article reports that:
During the inspectors’ visit, there was no documentation of the resident as an “elopement risk” and no picture posted at the front desk as recommended. The resident’s doctor told the inspectors that the resident had worsening dementia and should not ...
Read More
A view of an open red door with push-bar handle to the left of the frame, exposing an out-of-focus hall.

Nursing Home Lets Resident Die 30 Feet From Front Door in Freezing Cold

A nursing home should never allow a resident to wander outside in the bitter cold and freeze to death.  It seems so simple a rule.  Yet it happens, all to often: nursing home residents who are known wanderers are allowed to leave (“elope” from) the nursing home without anyone noticing. It’s only the lucky ones who are found safe before tragedy—freezing to death, overheating, being struck by traffic—takes them.  The fact is, nursing home wandering off is a real and deadly threat. That’s what happened to 76 year old Ohioan Phyllis Campbell, someone the nursing home knew was at risk of wandering due to dementia.  She left an Ohio nursing home in the freezing cold despite having a device on her that should have sounded alarms.  She wasn’t found until the next morning, after it was too late. She was only 30 feet from the front door. As WTVG Channel 13 reported:
The woman, who earlier in the day told a nurse's aide she was going home, went through a door into a courtyard even though she was wearing a monitor that should have set off alarms, the report said. Two aides told investigators they did not do scheduled checks that night even though they were marked as completed, according to the Ohio Department of Health investigation. A coroner determined that Phyllis Campbell, 76, likely died an hour or two after she went outside the Hilty Memorial Home in Pandora, roughly 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Toledo. She was found in the courtyard about 30 feet from its doors the morning of Jan. 7.
That’s as preventable as it is unacceptable. When I investigate nursing home death cases, I look at whether the nursing home is to blame for an injury or illness.  The fact is, every long-term resident ...
Read More

Do you have questions about a possible Nursing Home Wandering Off (Elopement) case? Contact us now using this confidential form. We'll help you get answers.

 Our No Fear Guarantee 

You’ve probably seen the lawyer ads: “No Fee Guarantee!” “No Fees if We Don’t Win!”   

Guess what? That’s true for just about any plaintiff’s lawyer.  It’s what a “contingency fee” means.  It doesn’t mean they’ll work hard.  Or get a good result for you.  It doesn’t mean much at all.

What we promise you is a NO FEAR guarantee.

What does that mean?  For 99% of our clients, a medical injury caused by negligence is new.  The medical malpractice lawsuit process is new.  Depositions, discovery, trial . . . everything is new.

New can be scary.  Especially when it involves having to testify under oath.

We’ve developed systems that let you address and move past the fear. Through education and information about the process. Role-playing and other preparation techniques. We empower you to be fearless.  Because this process is hard enough.

Contact us now.

Let Us Start Investigating Your Case

It's easy. No cost or commitment.
Get Started
Your first name
Your last name
What's the best way to reach you by phone?
We'll keep this confidential, and send you important information.

Find the Right Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Lawyers for You

Nursing homes are regulated by federal and state regulations that most personal injury lawyers know nothing about.

If you're looking to take on a nursing home, you need a lawyer who knows those rules.

We exclusively handle medical claims, with a focus on nursing home abuse and neglect. We've tried these cases and obtained millions in damages at trial. 100% our cases involve the failure to provide appropriate hospital, medical, and nursing care to members of the community.

How We’re Paid

We advance the costs of the investigation and lawsuit.  We only get paid from money we collect in a settlement of verdict: there’s never a bill to you.

By taking on all the risk, you can be sure we’re only going to take on cases we believe in fully.

What Can We Do to Nursing Home Conduct?

Nursing Homes are corporations: they speak the language of money.  Corporations, even non-profit corporations, are not real people; they do not have hearts, minds, or souls.

In our experience, holding a medical corporation responsible and accountable for carelessly injuring patients through a money verdict at trial, or a settlement motivated by their fear of trial, is the best way to make sure there is change.

A well-fought lawsuit can help prevent other people from being injured in the same way.

What Damages are Available?

Money damages available in a nursing home lawsuit can involve economic costs (medical bills, etc.), emotional harms like pain and suffering, disfigurement, disability, and, if the injuries cause death, the mental anguish and loss of family members for wrongful death.

Many states allow for punitive damages when a medical corporation consciously disregards a patient’s rights and safety with a great probability of causing substantial harm. They are awarded in exceptional cases.

We’ve proven punitive damages at trial, including a $3,000,000 verdict for punitive damages against one of the largest medical companies in America.

Punitive damages are intended to punish, deter the defendant from doing the same thing in the future, and reform the nursing home industry.

What Else Can I do Besides Contacting You?

Once you contact us, you'll get a list of next steps, as well as emails explaining how the process works.  So contact us now, or call us at 216-777-8856.

I Have More Questions...

If you're like most of our clients, you have a lot more questions.

The best way to get answers is to contact us now, then ask us.  But don't worry!  Contacting us costs you nothing, and you are not locked into hiring us

There's no risk in contacting us.  And you'll receive more information on how these cases work, including free access to our library of important information on nursing home and wrongful death cases.