When Nathan Bishop, 58, was found alive after spending 40 hours in the attic of the Riverview Senior Living complex — during which time more than 100 people were searching much of Juneau for him — it raised two obvious questions: how did it happen and what is being done to prevent a similar situation from happening again?
While the incident is still being reviewed by state officials to determine if a formal investigation is warranted, an executive for the Riverview facility’s parent company stated Friday some preventative actions have already been taken and more are being evaluated.
“This is the first incident like this we had in any of our communities,” Steve Kregel, chief operating officer for California-based Northstar Senior Living, wrote in an email in response to questions from the Empire. “We immediately put secure locks on the attic doors with the permission of the fire department to prevent this from happening again.”
Northstar officials are also determining why the attic was not checked after Bishop was reported missing, Kregel said. Staff did check all of the residences and other living areas of the facility.
Bishop, who has dementia and Parkinson’s, has been a resident at Riverview since May. He was reported missing at about 5 p.m. last Saturday and found just before noon on Monday when an employee went to the attic due to an electrical problem at the facility. Bishop was found and brought by rescue officials to Bartlett Regional Hospital soon after, with officials stating he was suffering from dehydration and other ailments, but not suffering life-threatening effects.
Family members interviewed shortly after Bishop was found said they remain grateful he is able to remain a resident at Riverview rather than being sent out of state due to a lack of such facilities in Juneau.
Facilities such as Riverview Senior Living operate under regulations and licensing defined by the Alaska Department of Health. Alex Huseman, a spokesperson for the health department, stated in an email Tuesday it appears Riverview followed legal requirements after Bishop was reported missing.
“At this point in time it seems that Riverview ALH properly reported the missing resident to local law enforcement and the Alaska Department of Health,” she wrote. “As more information becomes available we will continue to review it and evaluate if there is merit for a formal investigation.”
Complaints about deficiencies at locations such as Riverview are handled by the Alaska Long Term Care Ombudsman, which also makes unannounced visits to facilities, said Stephanie Wheeler, the current ombudsman, in an interview Wednesday. She said no complaints have been filed about the incident involving Bishop or against Riverview since it opened in late spring, and the standard procedure for such incidents is to allow Department of Health regulators to conduct their investigation.
“In this situation or if residential licensing is investigating then we’ll take a step back, we’ll wait for that investigation process to be completed, and then we’ll follow up with the resident or family member to ensure that resident is in a safe environment, or if there are any additional concerns that our agency may want to address,” she said.
Wheeler said she is not aware of similar incidents such as Bishop’s being brought to the attention of her office, making it “probably one of the more eye-opening situations we’ve seen.”
“What’s different in this situation is that the resident was located within the facility and a place that probably is not often visited,” she said. “So there’s a huge concern about how that happened and what the facility is going to do to make sure that residents are safe from this point forward.”
The unannounced visits by the ombudsman’s office can occur both randomly and in response to incidents brought to the agency’s attention, Wheeler said.
State regulations specify that facilities such as Riverview will promptly access emergency services if needed and document details of an incident if “a resident experiences a medical emergency, serious injury, or accident, is involved in assaultive behavior that could injure the resident or another person or that requires police intervention, or is absent without prior notice to the home and could pose a risk of harm to the resident or others.”
Also, an assisted living facility will notify state health officials within 48 hours after a resident “is absent from the home for 24 hours or longer without prior notice to the home.”
Huseman stated the health department does not have the ability to search missing resident reports directly, so “it is hard to say whether any similar incident has taken place, but anecdotally we do not believe there have been any incidents like this.”
State requirements also specify each resident at a facility such as Riverview will have an assisted living plan created for them within 30 days of admission, Huseman wrote.
“That plan will include safeguards and supervision requirements as well as the residents strengths and weaknesses to ensure that the best quality care is provided to them,” she wrote. Among those requirements are “specific strengths and limitations in performing the activities of daily living; any physical disabilities and impairments, and the aspects of the resident’s medical condition, general health, emotional health, mental health, or other conditions or problems that are relevant to the services needed by the resident. If a tracking device is needed, it should be noted in the assisted living plan.”
Those procedures are being followed at Riverview, according to Kregel.
“We have a system that evaluates the needs of each resident and how much time per day care would be needed for each resident,” he wrote. “Some residents have a large amount of care and some might have no care at all. The process adds up the amount of time and tells us exactly how many care shifts we need per day based on each resident. This is a model used widely in the assisted living industry and is very accurate.”
Kregel stated the next steps are working with employees and Bishop’s family to address any remaining concerns about his living situation.
“Once we learn more details through our investigation we will be reviewing our policies with our contracted nursing agency and an in-service with our staff,” he wrote. Also, “I am currently working with Nathan’s wife to determine the best next steps for Nathan and his family — through this our number-one goal will be the safety and well-being of Nathan.”
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 957-2306.