“Elopement” is a term that means something different to those in the nursing home business than it does to most people. The National Institute for Elopement Prevention defines it as “[w]hen a patient or resident who is cognitively, physically, mentally, emotionally and/or chemically impaired wanders away…escapes or otherwise leaves a caregiving facility or environment unsupervised, unnoticed and/or prior to their scheduled discharge.”
If you have a loved one in a nursing home or other care facility, you depend on that facility to have protocols in place to help ensure that their residents don’t elope. It should also have protocols for when a resident wanders away. Even if your loved one doesn’t suffer from dementia, a change in medication, an upsetting incident or any number of other things could cause them to leave the facility’s grounds — either intentionally or unintentionally.
If you are placing a family member in a care facility, it’s essential to notify the management of any history of wandering. If they suffer from dementia, they should be somewhere that can provide them with the appropriate care and treatment. They should be identified as a “risk to wander” to all staff members.
Once a resident has been identified as high risk to wander, share the information with all staff, not just nurses and other direct care providers. Add a “risk to wander” assessment to ongoing resident assessments.
The Alzheimer’s Association says that about half of elopements happen when a resident is new to a facility and their surroundings. It’s wise for facilities to place these residents in rooms away from entry and exit points and to keep a close eye on them.
If a resident goes missing, facilities need to have a plan in place that is implemented immediately. This should include a system to alert all staff members, an immediate systematic search of the interior and the grounds, notification of the resident’s family and the local police.
Once a loved one is found, it’s essential for family members to meet with the facility’s management to determine what happened and what steps are being taken to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. If you’re not comfortable with what you’re told, it may be time to look for a new home for your loved one. If they were injured or worse during their elopement, find out what legal options you have for holding the facility accountable.