ITHACA, N.Y.—A resident at Longview retirement home died last week after being found on the ground outside of the facility on South Hill. No foul play is suspected by police at this time.

Few details were available on the incident, as Longview Executive Director Mark Macera said in an interview that an investigation is underway and that he wanted to protect the person’s identity as well as his family’s privacy. The man’s family has been notified and they have been in contact with the Longview administration.

“It was a very sad and unfortunate accident,” Macera said. “A resident left the building without informing staff and was later found outside unresponsive. (…) The (investigation) we’re involved in right now is to determine exactly what happened, if anyone observed the resident leave the building, from which location, when it happened. So far, based on the context and conversations we’ve had with the residents, neighbors and friends and so on, no one has any details, they can’t say when this occurred.”

According to Macera, the man was last confirmed seen alive at some point in the evening on Thursday, Dec. 10. He was found the next morning by Longview officials. Macera said at this point, it isn’t clear how long the resident was outside of the facility, just that he was discovered after daybreak and that the facility was notified when someone called to tell them that there was someone lying on the ground outside of the building.

It does appear, Macera said, that the man fell at some point during the incident but “was either unable or unwilling to call for help.” Macera said they have been unable to determine why the man left the facility when he did. He was found unresponsive, Macera said, but it is unclear if he had already passed away by the time he was discovered.

Since the facility is a registered assisted living home, the New York State Department of Health is conducting the investigation into the circumstances around the man’s death, as well as an internal evaluation by Longview. A request for comment from the Department of Health has not yet been returned.

Macera said the New York State Police were called in relation to the incident.

“We are investigating the death of an elderly male in Longview,” said NYSP Troop C Public Information Officer Aga Dembinska. “There is no sign of foul play or suspicious activity.”

At this point, Macera said they do not know how long the man was outside, saying that it could have been “several hours or several minutes.” A cause of death will likely come from an autopsy, Macera said. According to weather data, the temperature on Thursday night would have hovered around freezing for most of the evening into Friday morning, when it became warmer.

“Residents have free rein of the facilities and grounds and so forth,” Macera said. “He would’ve left his room and, without getting into personal related issues, given his mobility and impairments, would’ve walked and taken any stairwell, any elevator (…) and gone out any exit or entrance. That’s what we’re trying to find out, discussing who was up and around and what locations he was seen at.”

Due to the type of facility that it is (an active retirement and assisted living community), there isn’t one-on-one supervision at Longview, Macera said, and it is not a locked facility, so the man wouldn’t have been wandering away from an aide or nurse at the time. If a resident was reported missing it would trigger a sweep of the grounds, Macera said, but the man wasn’t reported missing—it wasn’t known that he was out of the facility until the phone call in the morning.

“I’ve been here 30 years, and I don’t recall a single other incident similar to this,” Macera said. “We’ve had individuals leave the building, and not have this type of an outcome. They’re free to come and go as they please. They’re requested to let a member of the personal care staff know where they are, but in this particular case, this individual did not indicate that they were heading outside or moving about the building.”

If a resident’s mental acuity deteriorates and they become likelier to wander, as some people do as they age, Macera said the facility will normally work with the resident’s family to find another housing situation for them elsewhere.

The internal investigation Longview is conducting, as well as likely any findings by the Department of Health, will dictate if the man’s death results in any protocol or policy changes, Macera said, but there are inherent risks in the freedom that residents have at the facility, as there would be anywhere.

“Unless this were to operate as a prison, with all the doors locked and the people are locked away behind secured doors and only allowed to move about the facility at prescribed times under direct supervision, the circumstances that I see in this particular case are sad and unfortunate because there’s not much you can do,” Macera said.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com