Senior woman with walking frame having walk at winter
(Credit: Johner Images / Getty Images)

An assisted living caregiver who received a felony conviction last week in the exposure death of an 82-year-old resident will be sentenced next month for “reckless” failure to prevent the woman from wandering into frigid temperatures in 2022.

Colleen Kelly O’Connor was convicted of vulnerable adult abuse-second degree after a resident under her care at Vista Springs Timber Ridge Village in East Lansing, MI, died from exposure in the early morning hours of Dec. 23, 2022. O’Connor faces a maximum four-year prison sentence and/or up to a $5,000 fine in the case. 

“This verdict does not undo the tragic loss of life, but we hope it serves as a reminder of the immense responsibility caregivers have,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a release.

According to evidence presented at trial, O’Connor twice observed Cary attempting to go outside without appropriate attire in a blizzard with single-digit temperatures, subzero windchill, and blowing and drifting snow. The state alleged that O’Connor “recklessly failed to act” to prevent the resident from going outside, resulting in her death.

A snowplow driver found the resident in the parking lot at 7 a.m. the following morning, partially buried in the snow. It is unclear how long the resident was outside before she was found.

Senior living resident elopements and elopement-related deaths were the focus of a Washington Post package of stories in December, kicking off the publication’s “Memory Inc.” series. Those stories, along with articles by the New York Times and KFF Health News in November on the industry’s pricing structure, prompted a US Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing on assisted living, as well as a call for a government study on industry pricing and transparency.