As a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyer, I keep track of news about missing nursing home and assisted living residents who may have been victims of inadequate supervision. So I was pleased to see that our state has passed a law intended to help locate missing, vulnerable older people more quickly. The Reading Eagle reported Nov. 16 that a bill with that goal has passed the state House and is ready for the signature of Gov. Ed Rendell. It would create Missing Endangered Persons Advisories, similar to the Amber Alerts that currently go out when authorities believe children were abducted. The bill was authored by state Sen. Michael O'Pake, a Democrat from Reading who also authored the Pennsylvania Amber Alert bill.
According to the article, O'Pake was inspired by two relatively recent deaths of older people who died after going missing, including an 82-year-old woman who wandered away from her nursing home and was later found dead. We wrote about a similar case earlier this year, involving a man in his 70s who lived at a Philadelphia nursing home. Harold Chapman, a 75-year-old retired police officer with dementia, was wearing only his pajamas when he rode an elevator downstairs with a staff member. Nonetheless, no one stopped him from simply walking out the front door, and it took two hours for staff members to notice he was missing. He was found dead from hypothermia, just a short distance from the building. The Delaware Valley Nursing Home and several staff members were ultimately cited and fined for the incident, and Chapman's daughters are suing the home.
Dementia patients often end up in nursing homes because they need full-time supervision. Their disease simply robs them of their ability to avoid danger. That's why, as a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I strongly support this law to establish Amber Alert-style alarms when any vulnerable adult goes missing. However, it's even more important for nursing homes and other caregivers to stop this kind of danger before it starts, by adequately supervising their patients. Unfortunately, this is a chronic problem in some homes, where staff members are simply not paying enough attention or are spread too thin by understaffing to give patients the attention they deserve. Make no mistake: failure to supervise patients who can't care for themselves is a form of nursing home negligence. This can have serious consequences, as Chapman's family and others can attest.
The state of Pennsylvania can charge fines or criminal penalties against homes that allow deaths, injuries or preventable illnesses due to carelessness. But none of these remedies can help families deal with the emotional and financial effects of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse. Abuse, neglect and exploitation can permanently harm patients' health or finances, devastate families or even kill the patients. Dealing with it can also be very expensive, as families drop everything to hospitalize their loved ones or move them to a safer home. That's why victims and their families should consider speaking to a Philadelphia injury lawyer about seeking justice and financial compensation directly from a careless nursing home.