By Charlie Feldman
Maryville Police Chief Rob Carpenter, a patient wandered off from one of the village’s five assisted living facilities.
“The person had been walking through the woods,” he said. “We had dogs, we had airplanes, we had the fire department, we had all of our resources out. They came out of the woods on Country Lane in Collinsville. One of our officers picked him up.
“It’s not that common. We get some every year,” he said. “It’s not like it’s every day or anything. It’s mostly they’re in a facility here in town or they’re visiting a doctor in town or something like that.”
There are five facilities in Maryville. “I can’t swear that each one of them has had one,” he said. “It’s not a problem with just one facility.”
Elopement happens when a cognitively impaired resident leaves a facility without being noticed or supervised, according to the Med-Net Compliance LLC website and other webpages. It’s a special concern for caregivers and search and rescue responders.
The general consensus of these and other sites is that when a resident elopes they can become disoriented and lost, especially at night, wearing inappropriate clothing and at risk of walking on a busy street or falling, sometimes into a body of water. The necessity of searching at night imposes added risks on the searchers, sites say.
It’s not a new problem, according to Carpenter. “It’s always occurred,” he said. “I think half a dozen times a year is probably a fair guess. You can’t predict that stuff.”
Troy gets them too. Wander-offs and lost people.
“We are notified by either the family, if they walk/run away from a home – this is elderly and juveniles – or by the assisted living/memory care facility,” said Brent Shownes, assistant chief now serving as interim chief of the Troy Police Department. “Our CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) trained officers are with families in town gathering all needed information.”
“As far as large versus small cases,” he said, “all cases are handled as extremely important. Extra officers and drones from surrounding agencies are brought in quicker if the missing person has underlying medical/psychological needs such as a diabetic needs medication, someone with heart problems hasn’t taken meds, etc.”
Parsons said that Troy’s next police dog will be a tracker, not a biter. This German shorthaired pointer will not only be trained to sniff out drugs, it will also help seek out the lost.
“It’s actually one of the top dogs for stopping,” Parsons said at a recent City Council meeting. “So the dog will not be trained to bite. That will come in handy for our community. We need a dog that can track missing people. We couldn’t use a regular traditional K-9 to help find them. This kind of dog will be able to do that.”
Melissa Monte, director of community outreach at Aspen Care of Troy, thinks it would be great for the Troy community to be able to offer a dog’s assistance to any family at a time of crisis. “Dogs are wonderful service animals to any community that they serve!” she said.
The memory care provider she represents specializes in dementia and Alzheimer’s care. Residents who are prone to wandering can be accepted. It is a secured property. There is a computerized system that alerts staff if a resident attempts to wander to an unsafe area. And that staff is on service 24 hours a day, according to material provided by Monte.
In fact, escaping (eloping) from there is said to be difficult due to safety measures in place 24-7, Monte said. If one can work around the frequent room checks, there’s the problem of opening a door to get out. All doors are armed at all times, she said. Loud alarms sound anytime one is opened without the proper code being entered, according to Monte. And if they managed to get through all that, the facility has a policy in place on resident elopement.
So do other local facilities, but some are not authorized to release that information because those are handled by their corporate offices. Many are part of nursing home chains.
Back to Chief Carpenter and the search team wandering around in the woods over a month ago. So far this year, area police have searched for runaway teens, runaway subjects and even a “last seen in a local parking lot” drive-away case. But this was a walk-away – a wander-away. Like those from Troy, the size of the search team can vary.
“It depends how extensive,” Carpenter said. “We actually had an airplane flying over. The fire department has equipment for finding them with a heat seeker. We use dogs. That’s one of the tactics we use when it happens.
“Is it a new problem? No,” he said. “It’s always occurred.”