Originally created 12/18/97

State inspects nursing home

Allgood Health Care never added a security system for roaming patients to its third Augusta nursing home. Now it has to explain how a resident wandered away from that home and later drowned.

The company owns Forrest Lake Health Care, which was still being investigated Wednesday after Phoebe Cannell, 81, who had a history of wandering, was found dead early Tuesday in the home's front pond. A state nursing home inspector spent a second day at Forrest Lake Wednesday and should have a report ready by Friday, regulators said.

Forrest Lake has door alarms at all its exits except the main entrance, the door Mrs. Cannell took. The pond is about five car lengths from the front door, down a short decline.

"If she had gone out any other door, there would've been an alarm," said Gerry Linville, Mrs. Cannell's daughter.

Allgood's other homes, West Lake Manor Health Care Center and Jennings Health Care, use the Wander Guard system, which requires roaming residents to wear plastic bracelets that trigger loud alarms at any exit door they attempt to use.

"We're in the process of getting them in all the homes," said Tom Penley, vice president of Allgood. "No system is full-proof."

Nursing homes are not required by law to have such systems, but some administrators will caution families against sending loved ones who tend to roam into a home without Wander Guard or the equivalent.

Forrest Lake has not been cited by state regulators this year for problems with wandering residents. The home has had three deficiencies in two inspections to date this year, said David Dunbar, director of the state long-term care inspectors. This is the first time Forrest Lake has dealt with such an accident.

"This is very shocking because they don't have a history of problems like this," said Andrea Hamilton, an ombudsman whose duties include Forrest Lake.

Mr. Penley did not want to discuss specifics of Tuesday's incident, saying he wanted investigators to finish their work first. Mrs. Cannell was last accounted for around 9:30 p.m. Monday, her body discovered by police shortly after midnight Tuesday.

"I don't think we need to get into any more than this right now," Mr. Penley said when asked why the Wander Guard system hadn't been installed at Forrest Lake. "The situation we've got to deal with now is dealing with residents and family and dealing with it as best we can."

A nursing home can be fined, denied its Medicaid or Medicare reimbursements or closed for serious violations of state and federal regulations. But such punishments usually follow months of problems and deficiencies and are not implemented after one incident.

"The circumstances do differ almost on a case by case basis," Mr. Dunbar said. Even though Wander Guard or similar systems aren't required, "our concern is primarily that...whatever system they're using, that it be sufficient for the protection of their residents."


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