The death of an 88-year-old Longview woman last week has raised Washington wrongful death questions and serves as a tragic reminder of the high level of responsibility we rightly expect when placing loved ones in a professional care facility.
According to the (Longview) Daily News, the elderly woman “froze to death in the outdoor courtyard of her Alzheimer’s care center.” The paper quotes the woman’s daughter saying that the doors to the facility’s courtyard were unlocked late at night, despite the obvious danger this posed to patients. Washington State’s Department of Health and Human Services is reported to be investigating the incident.
The paper reports that a spokesperson for the facility “could not comment on policies… regarding access to the enclosed courtyard at night or in cold weather.” It is notable, however, that the victim’s daughter says her mother “had fallen out in the courtyard twice before and also was known to move around a lot at night.” Equally troubling are claims that the family was initially led about the cause of the woman’s death – being told she died of a heart attack without her exposure to the cold weather being mentioned.
When circumstances require us to commit a loved-one to full-time care we have every reason to expect a professional standard of service and a safe facility. State rules, regulations and licensing attempt to create this atmosphere, but they are not – indeed, cannot be – perfect. Inspectors and regulators do their jobs well but cannot be everywhere at once. Patients and their loved ones need to be able to have confidence that proper rules and procedures will actually be followed.
As an Oregon and Washington wrongful death lawyer I am passionate about not only helping families obtain the justice they deserve, but ensuring that the problems that lead to avoidable tragedies get fixed, so that other families to not have to go through experiences like this. Placing a loved one in a care facility is a difficult enough decision to begin with. No family should also have to investigate whether the facility and its employees take basic precautions and exercise common sense on a day-to-day basis as part of their efforts to keep their patients safe and healthy.
The Daily News (Longview WA): Elderly woman freezes to death outside Alzheimer’s care center