Washington Post Investigation: Assisted Living Resident Elopements and Staffing Problems Are Serious – Sometimes Fatal – Issues

As the life expectancy of Americans continues to rise, the need for safe and good-quality senior living facilities also increases. While many families are forced to place their elderly loved ones in nursing homes, many others turn to assisted living facilities. Assisted living is for people who need help with daily care but not as much help as a nursing home provides. They have become a popular choice for families whose loved ones struggle with dementia. The facilities provide the residents with their own rooms, meals, assistance with personal care, help with medications, housekeeping and laundry, 24-hour supervision, security, on-site staff, and social and recreational activities. Our Virginia Beach nursing home abuse attorneys understand the faith that families put in these facilities, entrusting that their loved ones will be taken care of and protected.

Yet according to a recently released investigation by the Washington Post, far too many families have tragically learned that this care is not being provided. The Post spent 18 months investigating facilities across the country, uncovering extensive dangers of inadequate and understaffing of senior living communities across the country.

What the Investigation Uncovered

The investigation team examined thousands of cases dating back to 2018 in which senior residents had wandered away unnoticed and unsupervised from their communities. This wandering away is referred to as “elopement.”

In the past five years, more than 2,000 residents wandered away from assisted living and dementia care units, or they have been left unattended outside. It is estimated that at lease 100 of these residents died, however, the exact number is unknown because no one – the facilities, states, or the federal government – are actually counting.

Since the Post published their investigation in mid-December, there have been at least two more residents who suffered from dementia died after getting outside of the facilities – with no staff noticing them leave. One of the victims died on Christmas Eve after wandering from an Oregon facility.

The second victim was a resident at a Columbus, Ohio facility. He died this month after walking out of his home unnoticed. The 74-year-old man, who suffered from dementia, had just been placed at the facility by his family in November. Surveillance video showed the man looking out the window at approximately 1 a.m. and then walking out an exit door and into six-degree temperatures. He wasn’t found until about 9 a.m. by facility staff, unresponsive on the sidewalk outside the building, wearing just a sweatshirt. He was pronounced dead by first responders at 9:22 a.m.

The Post investigation revealed incident after incident of tragic – and completely avoidable resident deaths. In approximately 60 percent of these incidents, the resident died after exposure to extreme cold or heat. Other incidents included:

  • A 77-year-old man died from multiple organ failure after being found covered in fire ants and yellow jacket stings 20 hours after walking away from his North Carolina facility. This was the second time he had wandered from the home.
  • A 79-year-old man wandered the woods near his South Carolina facility for nearly two weeks before dying in a pool of shallow water.
  • At one facility in Iowa, staff ignored the automated texts triggered by door alerts that pinged the iPads of night shift staff, as well as on the phones of the on-call nurse and the facility’s director – despite these warnings going off every few minutes. Had just one of these people done their job, a 77-year-old resident suffering from Alzheimer’s – and who had a history of wandering – would still be alive. Instead, eight hours after the door alerts went off, the resident’s body was found outside, her body covered in ice from the minus-11 temperatures all night.
  • Staff at a facility in Pennsylvania also ignored the door alarms, telling regulators they assumed they went off because of employees entering the building. But ignoring the alarms resulted in the death of a 65-year-old woman who wandered from the home and was killed when she was struck by a car.

Who Is Regulating?

The Post investigation recounted multiple stories of resident deaths because facility owners and staff failed to do their jobs. Unbelievably, the federal government doesn’t regulate the approximately 30,000 assisted living facilities in the U.S. like it does nursing homes. That regulation is left to individual states; however, few have implemented strong training and staffing requirements.

Last week, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on assisted living facilities and the concerns residents and their families face regarding cost, transparency, and adequacy of care. The chairman of that committee, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), cited information from the Washington Post’s investigation regarding wandering deaths and poor care. He also stated that the hearing was “the start of the biggest review of assisted living by the Senate in 20 years.”

Let a Skilled Nursing Home Neglect Attorney Help

If your elderly loved one has been the victim of neglect or abuse at an assisted living facility or nursing home, a Virginia Beach nursing home neglect attorney from our firm can explain what legal recourse your family may have. At Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp, we have been aggressively advocating for victims for more than three decades and have helped many elderly victims and their families receive compensation for their injuries, as well as hold the perpetrators who committed the abuse responsible. For example, our legal team was able to secure a $300,000 arbitration award for our client, an 80-year-old woman who had a serious fracture of her left tibia and fibula, resulting in eventual amputation, after suffering a fall from her nursing home bed.

Contact our office today to set up a free and confidential consultation with one of our dedicated nursing home abuse attorneys today. Our personal injury firm also has satellite offices in Hampton, Norfolk, and Portsmouth.