As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I have followed a case here in Philadelphia of a man who died of exposure after wandering away from his nursing home. The Philadelphia Daily News reported Nov. 29 that the family of Harold C. Chapman, Jr. has settled a negligence and wrongful death claim with the Delaware Valley Veterans Home. Chapman's daughters sued the home after his death on the last day of 2007, when the home's staff allegedly allowed him to wander unattended into freezing temperatures outdoors. The state-owned northeast Philadelphia home settled the claim for $250,000, the maximum allowed by law to any individual suing a state agency. Part of the money will go to Chapman's estate, and another part to his two adult daughters.
Chapman was 75 and suffered from both Alzheimer's and dementia. On the night of his death, it was New Year's Eve and the home was reportedly getting ready for a party. That was why, his daughters alleged, Chapman was able to walk out the door of the home wearing only his pajamas. Two hours later, staff members noticed that he was missing. He wasn't found until the next morning, even though he reportedly was only a few yards from the home's front door. An autopsy listed the cause of death as hypothermia. In the aftermath of the incident, the state Health Department cited the home for failure to take action leading to death. One employee quit rather than face questioning; the home later discovered that he had a past conviction for stalking. Several others were reprimanded or suspended for their roles in the incident.
As I have written recently, dementia and Alzheimer's patients tend to be institutionalized precisely because they need to be watched. Their diseases keep them from understanding the consequences of simple actions, such as walking into a freezing Philadelphia night without enough protection. Failure to supervise such a person is absolutely a form of Pennsylvania nursing home negligence, just as surely as physical abuse or over-medication. Our Philadelphia injury lawyers help families affected by this type of negligence hold the homes legally and financially responsible for the results. As this case shows, those results can be terrible -- a death or a very serious injury to someone whose loved ones thought he was getting better care than they could provide themselves.