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How can nursing home elopements be avoided?

Your loved one moved to a nursing home to be safe. However, on the day your loved one left the nursing home alone and unprepared, she was not safe. Instead, she was at significant risk of injury or death…and it might not have been her fault.

Nursing Homes Have a Responsibility to Prevent Elopements

Not every nursing home has to take the same precautions to prevent nursing home residents from wandering away from their facility. However, every nursing home has a responsibility to take reasonable precautions to prevent elopements and resulting injuries.

To that end, a nursing home may:

  • Perform individual elopement assessments on each resident. These should occur when a resident first moves to a nursing home, when there is any significant change in physical condition or medication, and at regular intervals throughout the year.
  • Have a plan of action in place if a resident is discovered to be missing. Additionally, staff should have drills to practice what to do in this kind of emergency situation.
  • Have alarms on unit doors and external exits. This may alert staff to a potential problem before it becomes a tragedy.
  • Have adequate staff to meet resident’s needs. This includes regular attendance checks.
  • Plan for specific risks. This may include when individual residents become agitated or when there is a large number of people entering or exiting the facility, such as during a shift change or the end of visiting hours.
  • Provide for physical activity and other organized activities for residents who are at risk of elopement. This may make them less likely to wander.
  • Have other safety measures in place to prevent elopement.

A nursing home may be held accountable by the government and by the injured resident or her family for the harm that results from an elopement. Of course, it is the resident who pays the ultimate price if nursing home staff are negligent. Accordingly, it is important for nursing homes to recognize the risks and to take appropriate actions to prevent elopements before they happen.

Jason F. Abraham
Managing Partner, Hupy and Abraham