Woman Wanders Out of Nursing Home Undetected, Dies in Ambulance

heritage_nursing_home_elderly_deathIn another case of alleged nursing home neglect, a woman who wandered out of her assisted living facility was found in a pool of blood in frigid temperatures. She died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

The woman’s family has filed a lawsuit against the facility over claims that the facility’s negligence caused the death of Delores Wiersum, 85, according to PostCrescent. Wiersum had been living at The Heritage for nearly six months before her death on January 17. An Appleton police sergeant discovered her on a sidewalk, about one mile away from the facility, in a pool of blood. ThedaCare is The Heritage’s overseeing health system.

At first, given the many broken bones and cuts to her body, police thought she had been beaten; however, the autopsy revealed that Wiersum fell at least five times during the four hours she was outside in the bitter cold, her son, Tom Wiersum, told the PostCrescent. “We were just appalled at the injuries she suffered and the number of times she fell,” Tom Wiersum, said. “We really felt a very deep sadness that our beloved mother had to meet such a horrible end,” he added, according to the PostCrescent.

The Winnebago County coroner’s report indicated that Mrs. Wiersum was outside in 15-degree temperatures clad only in pajamas and a light sweater, according to Department of Health records. She likely died of hypothermia, the PostCrescent reported.

The lawsuit accuses The Heritage of violating Wiersum’s rights and causing her severe pain, mental anguish, emotional distress, and wrongful death, according to the PostCrescent. The lawsuit seeks punitive damages, as well as funeral and medical expense compensation for Mrs. Wiersum’s five adult children.

Wiersum was moved from The Heritage’s independent living to its assisted living unit this August after having suffered a mini-stroke. The assisted living unit was meant to provide her with an individual care service plan that, explained her son, included checking on his mother every two hours and ensuring she did not leave the facility unattended, according to the PostCrescent. Wiersum was designated as a safety and fall risk and diagnosed with dementia and memory loss, according to the complaint.

The complaint also indicates that the police investigation revealed that staff recorded Wiersum as sleeping in her bed at 2:00 a.m.; however, video surveillance footage shows her exiting the facility’s rear door at 12:06 a.m., PostCrescent reported.

Since, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services issued a notice of noncompliance for Heritage Assisted Living, indicating that it failed to ensure Wiersum’s safety and listed a number of issues including the staff’s failure to conduct the two-hour safety checks and that no incident reports were filed concerning two incidents of Wiersum wandering through the facility’s hallways, according to PostCrescent. The notice indicated that immediately following Wiersum’s exit she spent 30 minutes trying to open the locked door, pulling on the door, and pushing a keypad. She eventually wandered away.

“Whenever I think about my mother now, I think about her walking in the dark, freezing weather and not having any place to go,” Tom Wiersum told the PostCrescent. “It’s been a haunting memory for me. I’ve lived her death a thousand times.”

We have long written about the growing issue of elder abuse and neglect in nursing home facilities. While news of such abuse routinely makes headlines, the deplorable practice continues. This is significant issue given that the senior population is expanding and living longer and more and more, people find themselves faced with the challenging decision of placing older relatives and loved ones in nursing home care. Unfortunately, family and loved ones seeking care of their seniors are sometimes left with very limited options and loved ones often suffer devastating indignities that include a broad array of abuse and neglect.

Some 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease today and, by 2025, that number could reach 7.1 million, the Alzheimer’s Association reports. Meanwhile, a 2001 Congressional report revealed that nearly one out of every three United States nursing homes were cited for at least one abuse violation over a two-year period. “In over 1,600 of these nursing homes, the abuse violations were serious enough to cause actual harm to residents or to place the residents in immediate jeopardy of death or serious injury,” the report stated.

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