Assisted living community sued for resident disappearance, death

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The son of an assisted living resident who wandered away from the community and was later found dead is suing the community.

“This is pretty much the worst-case scenario of what can happen when a facility doesn't provide the care that it's supposed to,” his attorney, Andrew Gross, tells McKnight's Senior Living. Notice of the lawsuit was served earlier this week, he says, and the lawsuit should be filed next week in St. Louis County District Court, Duluth, MN.

Dale Gerard, who had dementia, was 74 in July 2013 when she disappeared from Wesley Residence in Duluth. Off-duty employees told a Minnesota Department of Health investigator that they saw Gerard at a bus stop, but that by the time they turned their vehicles around, Gerard had departed on a bus. The community notified local police and the family, but efforts to find Gerard were unsuccessful. Her body was found 10 months later, about three miles from the community, trapped under a chain link fence.

According to the complaint, in 2013, Wesley Residence told Gerard's family that she could not leave the community safely on her own, so Gerard and the family agreed that she would wear an ankle bracelet that was supposed to trigger an alarm if Gerard left through an alarmed door at the community. The community had connected its wander management system to only three of its seven doors, however, an employee told the health department. Two interviewed employees said that Gerard could have been able to exit through one of the unalarmed doors.

“The allegation in this case is really an allegation that the facility made a decision not to alarm all of its doors,” Gross says, adding that one employee told the Minnesota Department of Health that the community's owner had looked into alarming all of the doors and found that it would cost “thousands of dollars.”

“That's what this lawsuit it really about, the decision to not alarm all of these doors, to not provide the care that was needed for Ms. Gerard to ensure that she remained safely within Wesley Residence facilities,” Gross says.

The signaling device was on Gerard's ankle when her body was found.

The complaint states that the family — Gerard had three sons in addition to the one whose name is on the lawsuit — is seeking more than $50,000, which is standard language for lawsuits in Minnesota, Gross says. “At the end of the day, the family is seeking accountability and justice for this. I haven't, as of yet, taken a case where the family comes into my office saying, ‘I want to get some money,' ” he says. “The family came to our office because they wanted to know what happened to their mom. And then they want to hold the facility accountable for those decisions and to make sure that another family doesn't have to go through the suffering that they went through.”

The health department said it found no evidence of neglect by Wesley Residence, stating that Gerard was capable of making her own decisions and that is was unclear how and why she left the community against the advice of healthcare professionals and her family.

Calls for comment placed by McKnight's Senior Living to Wesley Residence and its parent company, At Home Living Facilities Inc., were not returned.

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