The family of a deceased resident of Woodland Terrace, a nursing facility in Salisbury Township, has filed a claim of wrongful death in a Lehigh County Court. Audrey Penn, a 77-year-old suffering from dementia, was found dead in a ditch in Lower Macungie Township, roughly two miles away from the facility. The body was discovered several weeks after she left the facility and the coroner is still testing further to identify the exact cause of death.
A claim filed by Penn's son asserts that Woodland Terrace demonstrated negligence and it seeks in excess of $50,000 in damages. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Human Services Department is alleging that the facility has been cited for “incompetence, misconduct, and negligence”. The claim cites a fundamental example of negligence when the staff did not contact the authorities until more than two hours had passed after she was determined to be missing.
Penn moved into Woodland Terrace with various medical conditions including dementia, glaucoma, and diabetes. Police explained that the search for Penn was not easy as they were not sure if she was actually traveling on foot or had gotten a ride from someone passing by. The region near the facility is largely composed of thickly lined cornfields and wooded areas. Because the staff had not contacted police for several hours after her escape, the scope of the search expanded to a fairly large area. Police searched the region with assistance from police dogs, as well as members of a local church and other volunteers who distributed flyers and conducted a vigil to pray for her safe return.
Woodland Terrace is conveniently located in close proximity to Lehigh Valley Hospital. The facility is owned by a group with other similar facilities in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maryland, and others. Following the incident, the home began offering counseling and spiritual opportunities to residents and their families. Penn was said to have been known to wander through the facility, sometimes into the rooms of others, but it is not known how she was able to exit the secured dementia unit. The claim states that Penn was not in her room at 6 a.m. and that police were finally contacted at approximately 8:45 a.m. The suit alleges that the staff had insufficient training and that a pattern of “understaffing” was common.
The Salisbury Township Police expressed gratitude to all those that assisted with the search. Andrea McGowan, the facility's Executive Director, acknowledged that the Woodland community was saddened by the tragedy and extended prayers to the deceased's family. In a formal statement, ownership explained that they are conducting a comprehensive analysis of safety and security policies. They are taking efforts to implement technology that will better address their priority of protecting the well-being of their residents. Management says that the employee who failed to report Penn missing is no longer employed with the organization.