West Sussex care home staff 'covered up' overnight disappearance of elderly woman with Alzheimer’s

“It’s fairly terrible in itself that this was allowed to happen, given her vulnerabilities, but the fact it had been covered up overnight is inexcusable.”

Monday, 23rd August 2021, 1:12 pm

A man has spoken of his upset and disgust after his mum, who has advanced Alzheimer’s, was allowed to leave her West Sussex care home in the middle of the night before staff falsely claimed that she never left her bed.

Jan Fuelling, 79, was found wandering by two teenagers and taken to hospital after leaving Willett Lodge in Chaucer Road, Worthing, in April this year.

Her only son, Matt Benham, said: “She remained unidentified all night. She was effectively a ‘Jane Doe’.

Matt has publicly thanked the teenagers who found his mum, Jan, and took her to hospital

“It wasn’t until the next morning, at around 9am, that the care home reported her missing. There was an 11-hour gap.

“It transpired that the care staff had falsified her record and stated she was in bed all night, which was impossible.

“She was dealt with as high risk missing person but, because the nurses had written she was in bed all night, they thought the lady in hospital was potentially unlikely to be my mum.”

Sussex Police confirmed that, following an investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service decided that two people should receive formal police cautions for ‘wilful neglect and fraud respectively’.

A statement issued by the care home read: “At Willett Lodge the care and safety of all our residents is our first priority. Despite the security measures, one of our residents managed to leave the home and was not identified by the staff on duty as missing until the next morning.

“We would firstly like to express our sympathy to the resident involved and her family, as this was clearly a very distressing incident. We would also like to thank the two good Samaritans, who found her, for taking our resident to the hospital.

“The incident was reported immediately to the local authority safeguarding unit and the CQC. We worked very closely with the police in their investigations into this incident.

“We would like to assure everyone we have taken a thorough review of our systems, policies and procedures and implemented changes to avoid incidents like this in the future.”

Matt said he was ‘disgusted’ that his mum had been allowed to leave the care home on her own in the middle of the night, adding: “It was hard to comprehend.

“I was gobsmacked and absolutely disgusted that the neglect was allowed to happen. I was upset because of the potential consequences of letting a little old lady with no ability to look after herself wander around the streets at night.”

Matt said he wanted to publicly thank the two teenagers who ‘potentially saved my mum’s life’.

“The police told me that two young lads took her directly to hospital,” Matt said.

“I don’t know who these lads are and I would like pass on my absolute gratitude and thanks to them.”

Matt continued: “I also want to say thank you to Sussex Police who have done an incredible job at following it up. They did put two and two together.

“I’m incredibly grateful as it’s highlighted that these practices can’t be allowed.

“Their behaviour will get found out. The general public spend a lot of money putting their loved ones into that environment.”

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) said an immediate inspection was carried out at the care home following the incident.

Jemima Burnage, head of inspection for Adult Social Care, said: “The situation regarding a Willet Lodge resident who left the building unescorted was subject to a police investigation, which has now concluded.

“As soon as we were made aware of the incident, we carried out an immediate focused inspection to ensure that other people living at the service were safe.

“Following that inspection, the service was rated requires improvement and we took enforcement action to ensure that the provider has better oversight of the service in future.”