The family of a 77 year old woman with Alzheimer’s has filed a lawsuit against her nursing home after the facility allowed the woman to go missing. Two hours passed before the facility, Woodland Terrace at Oaks Senior Living Community in Allentown, Pennsylvania, called the police. Her body was found dead 3 weeks later in a ditch almost 2 miles away. It is unclear for how long the victim had been deceased before she was located.
The victim, Audrey Penn, was admitted to Woodland Terrace in February of this year with a documented history of dementia and other ailments. After her admittance to the facility, it was noted that she had a tendency towards wandering, a condition that requires precautions including door alarms, personally-fitted tracking devices, and staff vigilance. The nursing home was well aware of Ms. Penn’s tendency to wander and failed to protect her on August 23rd. Ironically, the staff member who allowed Ms. Penn to exit the facility unnoticed that day (referred to as elopement) had just been trained 48 hours prior on how to handle residents who had eloped or wandered. She said she assumed Ms. Penn had left her room to visit with another resident and finished her rounds, leaving a 2 hours gap between when she noticed Ms. Penn was missing and when she decided to call the police.
Elopement and Wandering Can be Prevented
This is one of several headline-grabbing cases of elopement and wandering from nursing homes this year. Several years ago in Chicago, ex-Cubs player Kerry Wood was paddling in Lake Michigan when he discovered the body of a man who had eloped from a north side nursing home. Each story such as Ms. Penn’s causes shock, but the truth is that without a combination of vigilant staff and preventative measures, nursing home residents could easily wander or elope from a facility. All facilities entrusted with the care of the elderly should have this combination in place, but as we’ve seen time and time again, some nursing homes do not always follow regulations put in place to prevent catastrophes such as these. These stories seem to rarely have happy endings, because allowing an elderly person with medical conditions and physical limitations to move around freely without supervision puts them at risk for falls, missed doses of critical medication, and hunger and dehydration, among other tragic occurrences. It is believed that those with dementia have a higher tendency of wandering and elopement, which is why those whom have shown a previous inclination towards either behavior should be identified and monitored to prevent future incidents.
Ms. Penn’s family is actively involved in a lawsuit with Woodland Terrace and is seeking a trial by jury.