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Elopement: When patients flee in poor mental states

Imagine taking someone you love to the hospital. She wasn't acting normal when you saw her, so you rushed her there. She had been acting like she didn't know who you were and was confused about where she was. You thought she must be ill.

At the hospital, the doctors discover that your loved one has an illness that has affected her memories temporarily. After proper hydration and rest, they think the illness will resolve within a few days. The problem arises later when you go to check on her. She's nowhere to be found.

This is called elopement. In a hospital setting, it means that a patient has left without letting anyone know. Coherent patients who are mentally sound and who are over the age of 18 may make a decision to leave a hospital at any time. However, someone who is confused should be monitored and placed in the care of the hospital. That patient does not have the right to leave at any time, because his or her mental faculties are compromised. Until the individual is functioning normally, he or she does not retain the right to leave at will.

Immediately after doctors or providers discover that a patient has fled, it's vital to issue a Code Green. This code is the code for elopement and informs those in the hospital that there is a patient missing. This notifies security, the patient's physician, the patient's family, the police and others to help bring the patient back safely. If this doesn't take place, the patient could be lost, get injured or suffer fatal medical problems when no help is available.

Source: Patient Safety Network, "Elopment," Debra Gerardi, RN, MPH, JD, accessed March 13, 2018

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