Congress Concerned about High Number of Wandering Deaths in Assisting Living Facilities

The Senate Special Committee on Aging convened its first hearing on assisted living in two decades. Triggered by alarming reports of assisted living wandering/elopement-related deaths, the hearing saw rare bipartisan unity as leaders addressed issues such as facility safety, inconsistent regulations and reporting, and neglect. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) urged families to share their assisted living facility experiences and costs and also sent letters to CEOs of the top three facility owners requesting visibility into care quality, staffing, and costs. This congressional review marks a crucial first step to address longstanding challenges in the $34 billion industry. With more than 800,000 older Americans residing in assisted living facilities, reform is urgently needed.

Congress Reviews Assisted Living Wandering Deaths

Nursing homes vs. assisted living facilities

Many Americans mistakenly believe nursing homes and assisted living facilities to be the same thing. Unfortunately, there are many differences which directly affect resident care.

Primary Differences between Assisted Living Facilities vs. Nursing Homes
Aspect Assisted Living Facilities Nursing Homes
Level of Care General assistance with daily activities Skilled nursing care
Medical Services Limited medical care Comprehensive medical care
Independence Residents maintain independence Higher level of dependency
Facility Environment Apartment-style living Clinical/hospital-like setting
Staffing Minimal medical staff Medical staff available 24/7
Cost Typically paid out of pocket by residents or private insurance Often covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance
Regulations Varies by state; less regulated than nursing homes Highly regulated at federal and state levels
Visibility into Facility Safety Records Limited visibility into safety records Greater transparency and access to safety records and inspections

Read more about assisted living facilities versus nursing homes in an article I wrote for the Ohio Bar Association.

What is assisted living wandering/elopement?

Reporting by The Washington Post uncovered that, “since 2018, more than 2,000 people have wandered away from assisted-living and memory-care facilities unnoticed or been left unattended for hours outside. Nearly 100 have died, and state inspectors frequently found evidence of neglect.” Due to the looseness of reporting requirements, regulation, and visibility into facility safety records, these tragic deaths are underreported. The worst part is that these assisted living wandering deaths were preventable.

Wandering, elopement/escape

As an assisted living facility wandering, elopement, and escape attorney, I know that one of the main reasons families place their loved ones in the care of such facilities is safety, hoping to prevent the following:

  • Wandering. For those suffering from cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s or dementia, wandering refers to aimlessly moving around the facility without awareness of personal safety. For instance, residents might exit their rooms, enter an elevator, and go to the basement.
  • Elopement or Escape. Elopement involves residents leaving or escaping the facility unnoticed and unsupervised, going beyond the premises.

Why does the Senate hearing matter?

“Assisted living is the rock we don’t want to look under,”
Catherine Hawes, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University who has studied assisted-living quality for the federal government, told The Post

Unfortunately, the powerful assisted living lobbying groups are not incentivized to change for the better, for many complex reasons including:

  • Financial interests. Assisted living facility residents pay an average monthly cost of $6,000. Such monthly bills often contain surprise charges and fees that significantly push up the total due. Further, improving conditions would require investments in staff training, infrastructure, or safety measures, all of which would impact their bottom line.
  • Lack of regulation. Assisted living facilities operate under varying state regulations, with limited federal oversight and regulatory fine capabilities. Currently, the most significant financial risk faced by facilities for wandering and elopement is through lawsuits.
  • Resistance to accountability. A commitment to improve conditions would result in greater scrutiny, reporting, and compliance. Accountability measures could reveal deficiencies or violations, bringing reputational risk.

The Senate Committee on Aging Congressional Review has declared its intention to review quality of care, safety and well-being, and workforce challenges with the intention of making policy recommendations to influence federal and state regulations, funding, and oversight, directly affecting Americans’ access to quality long-term care.

We all have an opportunity to be part of the solution. If you or a loved one is or has been adversely affected by assisted living facility care, you are invited to submit your assisted living story to Senator Casey:

As we know, Rome wasn’t built in a day and effective legislative change is a long process. If your loved one is at an assisted living facility and is at risk of wandering and elopement (learn more about the signs here), it’s important stay vigilant and informed. In an upcoming article, I’ll share how to ensure that your assisted living facility is providing the right level of care for your loved one and if it’s time to make a switch to a nursing home or other option.

As an Assisted Living Facility Wandering Lawyer and Elopement (Assisted Living Escape) Attorney, I Seek Answers, Compensation, and Justice on Behalf Injured Residents and Their Families.

An assisted living facility must provide a safe and secure environment for its residents and their families. When that trust is broken, you may have recourse.

There is no excuse as to why a resident should ever wander into a non-resident area of an assisted living facility, or simply walk out of an assisted living facility unnoticed. Families who have had such an incident happen to one of their loved ones want – and deserve – answers. In cases where injury or death has resulted, they also deserve justice and fair compensation.

For more than 30 years, I and my firm have been fighting for residents and families in these cases throughout Ohio. We have handled many assisted living facility escape, elopement, and wandering cases and would be pleased to speak with you about your options. We take on assisted living facilities of all sizes, ranging from small, independent facilities to the big corporations that may own dozens or even hundreds of locations. Lawsuits hold assisted living facilities accountable and collectively work to make the industry safer.

If a loved one in your family wandered or escaped from an assisted living facility, I invite you to call me for a free consultation to learn about your rights, the rights of your loved one, and the options available for seeking justice. As a nursing home wandering and escape law firm, we accept cases on a contingency fee basis. There is no fee for our firm unless compensation is recovered.

Please Call Our Firm Today for a Free Consultation with Nancy Iler, Wandering and Elopement Assisted Living Facility Attorney, and to Learn About Your Options

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