Schmidt, Sethi & Akmajian Blog

A Locked Door Would Have Saved His Life

Posted by Dev Sethi | Jan 02, 2024 | 0 Comments

Miguel Moreno, a beloved father of three daughters, died after being lost in the desert on August 5, 2023. Investigative accounts suggest that Miguel, who suffered early dementia, walked out of an open gate in his memory care facility. It took hours for staff to realize he was missing and coordinate a search. By the time he was found, Miguel had been wandering in the desert for nearly three hours on a day where temperatures exceeded 110 degrees. 

It turns out this was not an isolated incident.

A recent article from the Washington Post details a tragic incident at Courtyard Estates at Hawthorne Crossing, an assisted-living facility near Des Moines, Iowa, which highlights a broader issue in America's senior assisted-living industry, especially for those with dementia. On a cold night in January 2022, Lynne Stewart, a 77-year-old Alzheimer's patient, wandered out of the facility. Despite the automated alerts sent to the staff, no one responded for over eight hours. Stewart was found the next morning, having succumbed to prolonged exposure in minus-11 temperatures.

Since 2018, over 2,000 people have wandered from assisted-living and dementia-care units in the U.S., and nearly 100 have died, often due to exposure to extreme temperatures. These cases reflect a pattern of neglect in an industry that charges families an average of $6,000 a month for care and safety.

The Washington Post investigation found failures in response to door alarms, skipped safety checks, and staff negligence, even in luxury facilities. Regulatory fines are typically minimal and don't proportionately penalize the facilities for their lapses. Moreover, the federal government does not regulate these facilities; instead, regulation is up to individual states, many of which lack strong staffing and training requirements. This decentralized approach results in inconsistent oversight and enforcement.

The article emphasizes what families know all to well - the vulnerability of dementia patients in assisted living, who are often mobile and confused, and may not adapt well to institutional settings. Despite promises of secure environments and specialized care, many facilities fail to prevent or adequately respond to incidents of patients wandering off.

Families often remain unaware of these risks and the facilities' safety records. The lack of federal oversight and standardized public reporting further complicates the ability to assess and ensure the quality of care in these facilities. This situation leaves many families in distress and calls for more stringent regulations and accountability in the senior assisted-living industry.

I am currently representing Mr. Moreno's family in this tragic case. If you are aware of any similar wanderings in Arizona, I would appreciate hearing your story.

About the Author

Dev Sethi

Dev Sethi litigates and tries a wide-range of complex injury and death cases throughout Arizona. He has Martindale Hubbell's highest rating, AV, and he is listed in "Best Lawyers." Dev is also recognized as an Arizona Super Lawyer in the area of plaintiff's products liability litigation.Dev has been at the forefront of auto product defect litigation. He played a key role in uncovering the Goodyear Load Range E tire scandal and worked to hold Ford Motor Company responsible for the danger posed by their now notorious 15-passenger vans. Dev is currently representing families in product liability suits against the nation's largest corporations including General Motors, Ford, Pentair Pools and Invacare.


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