The 77-year-old male resident of a Chicago nursing home had a habit of wandering off from the premises. With a history of two previous recent incidents when he had wandered away, he was a known risk for leaving the nursing home without being seen. The man’s dementia made it difficult for him to understand that he should not leave the nursing home. His heart condition made it dangerous if he left. And the freezing temperatures in Chicago during January made it deadly if the man were to walk outside and disappear from the nursing home.
On January 14, 2012, the man left his nursing home without being observed. He was not found until two days later when his body was discovered partially submerged in a creek one block from the nursing home. He had died from exposure (hypothermia).
The nurse responsible for the man’s care claims that she was unaware that the man had attempted to leave the nursing home on prior occasions and that the care plan for the man did not document the prior wandering attempts. Nonetheless, the man was not fitted with a device that would have warned the nursing home staff on duty if the man attempted to wander off.
What Is A “Care Plan”?
Nursing homes are required to establish a written care plan that outlines the medical (nursing) care that is to be provided to each resident. Every patient must undergo a detailed assessment that forms the basis in determining a plan of action required to address the patient’s identified problems and issues and to work towards identified patient goals and objectives. The care plan is an on-going process that is required to be updated and changed as the patient’s condition/problems/issues change over time.
Nurses and aides who take care of nursing home patients must refer to and depend upon the care plan to insure that the proper nursing care is being provided to their assigned patients. If the care plan for a patient fails to adequately outline the patient’s problems, or is not timely and properly updated to address changes in the patient’s needs and medical conditions, the appropriate care may not be provided because the caregivers may be unaware of certain problems or issues with the patient.
Failure to timely and appropriately create the care plan and/or to make changes to the care plan when required is a breach of the standard of care and is, by definition, medical malpractice. Failure to follow the care plan, without adequate reason, is also medical malpractice. Deviation from the care plan can result in devastating injuries, or death, to the patient who is the subject of the care plan.
In the case of the Chicago nursing home resident, if the man was not properly assessed for wandering, or his care plan was not properly written or updated to address his recent wandering and to set forth nursing interventions to address his wandering (including but not necessarily fitting the man with a device that sets off an alarm if and when he attempts to leave the premises), then the nursing home may be responsible for the medical negligence that resulted in the man’s death.
If you or a loved one were injured due to nursing home negligence, the advice of a medical malpractice attorney may help you decide if you should bring a medical malpractice claim for your losses.
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