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Wander Management Systems Save Lives, Help Solve Staff & Liability Issues_long

Senior Living Elopement Deaths Total Almost 100 Since 2018 

The Washington Post recently did an investigation that found over 2,000 adults wandered away from senior living centers in the US from 2018 to 2023 that resulted in almost 100 deaths. 

The total number of elopements and deaths are likely undercounted because most states do not have specific licensing regulations for wander management and not all states provide data the public can download. 

There are approximately 6.2 million Americans living in senior living centers, also known as assisted living facilities, so the number of deaths is very small, but one death is too many. 

The Post article does not mention anything about Wander Management systems which are one of the best ways to protect residents from elopement while respecting their freedom and dignity. 

Staffing Issues 

The investigation found many of the deaths resulted from staffing challenges and a lack of training.   The assisted living staffing shortage is so bad that a 2023 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found it has led to the closure of assisted living facilities in 27 states.  Many states also have waiting lists for new residents or are turning them away according to a report by the American Healthcare Association.  A proposed 24hr nursing coverage change by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services may exacerbate the issue if the rule is passed. 

Without a wander management system, facilities must rely on various outdated security procedures such as locking doors, responding to exit alarms and communicating via walkie talkie or other means of communication.  All of this is more labor intensive for staff. 

RFT’s wireless Quick Response® Nurse Call with Wander Management system is designed to improve resident safety, increase staff efficiency, and reduce liability.  The Wander Management system is mapped to a facility’s coverage area and automatically locks doors if a resident tries to elope and displays alerts on a computer and other devices. 

A Wander Management system also has a positive impact on staff, but this is often overlooked by administrators, healthcare workers and nurses.  Communication is the key to making sure your residents and employees know the technology your business has invested in is making their lives and jobs easier and safer. 

Cost Is Often a Factor 

Owners and administrators should consider the benefits of installing a Wander Management system vs. the cost of hiring and replacing valued employees. 

The cost to hire senior living staff is as high as $5,000. These costs can cripple an operator when turnover is high. 

Having a Wander Management system can help attract staff and help to retain them as well because it makes their jobs easier and safer. 

According to the Washington Post, the average cost for a fatal elopement death lawsuit is $350,000, far outweighing the cost to install a Wander Management system. 

The real cost of an elopement death at your facility thou is the cost to your reputation.  Media coverage can lead to a loss of your facility’s good name, standing in the community and financial loss that is hard to regain. 

Assisted Living Regulations 

Assistant living facilities are regulated at the state level unlike nursing homes which are regulated by the Federal government because of Medicare.  In reality, there is a patchwork of state rules assisted living facilities must follow for things like Admission and Retention, Unit and Staffing Requirements, Staff Education/Training and Facility Scope of Care.  Many people are not aware of this and fail to check their state’s requirements for protecting their loved ones in assisted living facilities.  (*Facilities accepting Medicaid may have different requirements.) 

RFT has found only nine states that mention the word “wander” at all in a 2022 state regulatory review done by NCAL, the National Center for Assisted Living.   

  • Two states, Arkansas and Delaware, have Admission and Retention policies for residents at risk of wandering.  
  • Six states, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming have policies for Unit Staffing Requirements.   
  • Wyoming has a Facility Scope of Care policy for residents at risk of wandering. 
  • Oregon has a Staff Education and Training Policy for wandering. 

What Can a Wander Management System Do? 

RFT’s Wander Management system safely monitors residents at risk of elopement with cost-effective transmitters and notifies caregivers for faster response times. 

  • Community residents wear discreet, restraint-free transmitters around their wrist or ankle that recognize when a transmitter is near a monitored exit, called loitering, and arms the door and alerts caregivers.   
  • An alarm sounds if an attempt is made to open a locked door while complying with fire codes which automatically unlock in the event of a fire alarm. 
  • Caregivers receive alerts at a central computer station with real-time location tracking on the facility’s map or a variety of other devices including mobile, LED displays, pagers and walkie-talkies. 

What Can People Do to Keep Their Loved Ones Safe From Wandering? 

  • First, check to make sure any facility you are considering has an industry-leading Wander Management system like RFT’s in place! 
  • Ask if there is a wander management plan in place. 
  • Ask if staff are trained in how to best deal with wander management. 
  • Check to see what your state’s requirements are for assisted living facilities. 
  • Check your state’s licensing agency for assisted living facilities to see if any complaints were filed against any facility you are considering. 
  • Look at reviews of assisted living facilities in your area.  A Place for Mom is a good place to research. 


RFTs wander management systems are installed around the US and are undoubtedly helping to save lives.  Make sure your facility has a Wander Management system to help save lives, retain staff, save costs, reduce liability, and protect your reputation by automatically monitoring and locking doors to prevent elopement. 

About the author:

Joel Barton Marketing Specialist at RFT Joel Barton is a Marketing Specialist and lead content writer at RF Technologies. He has a journalism background and extensive copywriting and content marketing experience with consumer brands, finance, healthcare, pharmaceutical, and tech.