The Chicago Tribune has had a series of articles about the tragic death of a nursing home resident who was unsupervised and allowed to wander away from the facility. The articles are good although many questions remain unanswered. See articles here, here, here, and here. Below is a summary of what I believe has been found out thus far.
Sarah Wentworth -- who suffered from dementia -- was found in a snowbank outside The Arbor of Itasca the cold morning of Feb. 5. She had been exposed to the elements for at least 90 minutes and more likely 5 hours. Wentworth was unable to leave her bed without assistance. No one is sure how she could have left her room and the building without being noticed by staff. Staff are required to do a bed check every two hours. She was known by staff to be a wanderer and wore an ankle bracelet that reminded the staff.
Wentworth was wearing only a hospital gown when police arrived at the nursing home. She had on an ankle bracelet that should have (and may have) triggered an alarm at the facility's nursing station when she passed through the first of two exit doors. Inside the nursing station at The Arbor of Itasca is a handwritten note reminding staff that "if this buzzer sounds, staff must go out to the courtyard to check for a resident."
Nursing home staff members told Itasca police they checked the door to the courtyard when the alarm went off, but did not see anyone. No mention of a polygraph test was noted.
Neglect and obstruction of justice charges may be filed against as many as four employees. Heidi Leon, a 23-year-old staff member on duty the night of the incident, was watching TV in a room adjacent to the nursing station when Wentworth exited a door and triggered the alarm. She watched three straight episodes of "Dog The Bounty Hunter" and "shrugged off " an alarm that indicated a resident had wandered outside into near-zero conditions. Instead of checking the courtyard as instructed, the staff member assumed someone "stepped outside to have a cigarette" and turned the alarm off "so it didn't distract her television program."
Tom Hendrix, an attorney for the nursing home, did not respond directly to the allegations but said that "policies and procedures were in place for the supervision and safety of residents, including an alarm system which was in working order." Hendrix did admit that some employees had been suspended.
Mr. Hendrix nor the nursing home employees can explain how she got outside. She was unable to get out of bed on her own. Although an alarm sounded at a secure door during the middle of the night when Wentworth left the building, no nursing home employee checked on her. The outside temperature that morning was about 1 degree.
Heidi Leon was charged Tuesday with criminal neglect of a long-term-care facility resident, criminal neglect of an elderly person and obstruction of justice. If convicted, she faces up to 7 years in prison.