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Somebody Call 911!

Families with loved ones in adult care facilities are pushing for new legislation that will affect how the facilities handle missing patient situations according to a recent article in the Mercury News. The legislation is not up for a vote yet, but if enacted, the law will require care facilities to contact authorities immediately once a resident is discovered missing or has failed to return at a scheduled time.
The two incidents highlighted in the article involve situations where mentally impaired adults went missing for several hours from the facilities whose care they were under. The facilities did not act quickly in either case.

Yolanda Membreno was an 86-year-old mentally impaired woman under the care of Julia’s Home. She went missing from the home on September 30th of this year. According to Roy Roberto, the man who operates Julia’s Home, their established protocol is to conduct their own search before contacting the police. In Membreno’s case, the staff followed protocol but that meant waiting an hour before contacting the police. Membreno was found dead on a playground only 100 yards away from the entrance to the care facility just a few hours after she went missing.

Caitlin Lester is a 24-year-old developmentally disabled woman who was under the daytime care of the Concord House. Caitlin’s mother arrived on the evening of July 15 at the Concord House to pick up Caitlin. Caitlin was not there. She and two other patients had been allowed to walk to Starbucks just a few blocks away. They were three hours past their expected return time, but the staff at the Concord House had not noticed that they were still gone. Two Catholic nuns run the Concord House, and once Caitlin’s mother arrived to find her daughter missing, Sister Maryanne Leyba called the police for the first time. Fortunately, a good Samaritan found the three missing patients, but by the time they were found they were seven miles away from the home.

Caitlin survived the ordeal, but the walk resulted in post-traumatic shock and bloody wounds on her thighs. Doctors also discovered a severe urinary tract infection and that Caitlin was going into septic shock according to her mother.

In Membreno’s case, the care facility followed their protocol and did contact the police, but it was too late. Roberto, the facility’s operator, did say that he would be open to new laws requiring him to call the police immediately. In Caitlin’s case, the nuns did not notice Caitlin and the others were missing. According to the article, the Concord House broke the law requiring them to call the Community Care Licensing Division by failing to report a missing person. Both cases show that there is a “gap” in the regulations controlling residential adult care facilities. Pat McGinnis, founder of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said that such a law requiring facilities to contact the police immediately is “a good start.” The law that Caitlin’s mom is supporting focuses on adult care facilities that are regulated by the Community Care Licensing Division under the California Department of Social Services, but does not include skilled-nursing facilities licensed by the California Department of Health and Human Services.

There were 1,932 reports of missing dependent adults in 2011 in California, according to the California Department of Justice. Many of these cases result in injuries, or even death like that in Membreno’s case. It is not a guarantee that notifying the authorities immediately will cut down on this number, but having the police respond immediately will ensure that every measure is being taken to find and protect dependent adults who go missing. If you have a loved one who was injured in a similar situation, please contact our elder law attorneys to discuss your case.
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