Elderly woman freezes to death outside Alzheimer's care center

2013-12-09T23:55:00Z 2014-01-16T17:10:39Z Elderly woman freezes to death outside Alzheimer's care center Longview Daily News

An 88-year-old Longview woman froze to death in an outdoor courtyard of her Alzheimer’s care center early Friday morning, and her outraged family wants to know how her death could have happened.

“We don’t understand why the doors (to the courtyard) weren’t locked at night during this freezing weather,” said Dawn Johnson, the daughter of Norma Jeannette Sheldon. “We entrusted them with her care. The whole reason she was there was that my dad is 89 years old and couldn’t take care of her anymore. We thought we were doing the right thing entrusting her to them.”

The state Department of Health and Social Services is investigating the death as part of its oversight of nursing homes and care facilities, officials confirmed Monday.

A nurse at the Canterbury Gardens Alzheimer’s Care facility initially told Don Sheldon that it appeared his wife died of a heart attack, though the nurse did also mention the cold weather, he said. Sheldon was found outside by Canterbury staff at 1:18 a.m., when it was 28 degrees, according to the Cowlitz County Corner’s Office. Don Sheldon wasn’t called until 3:30 a.m., he said Monday.

The family later learned from the coroner that the cause of death was hypothermia, Johnson said.

They haven’t heard anything from the nursing home since Johnson called to say she’d pick up her mother’s things, she said Monday afternoon. Early Monday evening, though, a spokeswoman from Koelsch Senior Communities said they had reached out to the family.

“We just want to express (that) we’re very sorry this tragedy occurred,” spokeswoman Diane Craft said. “Our hearts go out the family ... and we’re working closely with the Department of Health and Social Services in our initial research into the incident.”

Craft could not comment on policies at Canterbury Gardens regarding access to the enclosed courtyard at night or in cold weather. She said the company, founded in Kelso, always makes patients and their families a priority. The Canterbury Gardens facility, licensed for 72 beds, is one of four retirement or nursing homes the Olympia-based company operates in Cowlitz County.

While the Canterbury Gardens building is secure so that residents can’t leave, the doors to the courtyard are open and accessible from the Alzheimer’s wing, Johnson said. Her mother had fallen out in the courtyard twice before and also was known to move around a lot a night, so she’s puzzled why workers didn’t lock the doors during the recent cold snap.

“They should have know this was a pattern, that something like this could happen,” she said.

“That’s why we pay $5,000 a month — for them to look after her,” Don Sheldon said.

The family was told that Sheldon was in her bed at the 11 p.m. bed check, but Johnson has her doubts because she said it was rare for her mother to sleep in her bed, often sleeping in a chair in the commons area. There’s no report of the midnight bed check, Johnson said.

Sheldon has suffered from Alzheimer’s dementia for six years and lived at the Canterbury for nearly three years, her family said. Aside from the dementia, she was “healthy as a horse” and family members just visited her on Tuesday, Johnson said.

After his wife fell in the courtyard, Don Sheldon raised concerns, and his wife was moved closer to the main nursing station, Johnson said. Since then, though, she had been moved further back in the wing.

Don Sheldon said the nurses and aides were “marvelous” when dealing directly with his wife, but he’s still angry and confused about how on duty staff failed to stop her from going outside on such a cold night.

“I feel so sorry for the people involved,” he said. “I’m at mad them, too, but I do feel sorry for them.”

“The real tragedy of this is they knew she’d gone out there before,” he said. “It’s unbelievable, isn’t it.”

Longview police responded to the call Friday morning and the investigation continues, though there’s no sign of foul play, Detective Sgt. John Reeves said Monday. State officials also were notified because the death took place in a nursing home, he said.

State DSHS investigators will talk with staff and look at facility protocols to identify what happened and whether there are things to correct, said Bill Moss, Assistant Secretary of the Aging and Long-term Support Administration.

It’s far too early in this investigation to comment on the outcome, but the state can assign penalties and fines if officials find standards were violated. In extreme cases, a facility can lose its license, Moss said.

Sheldon’s family spent Monday organizing her funeral.

The Sheldons have lived in Longview since the 1940s and were fixtures in town, Johnson said. Norma Sheldon was an active volunteer, working at election polls, attending Democratic caucus meetings and working with the Longview Christian Women’s Club. She also shared some of Don Sheldon’s spotlight during his popular “Mr. Magic” shows around town, sometimes serving as his assistant. One performance included putting her in a phone booth and “piercing” her with 40 broom handles and a sword, according to Daily News archives.

“She was a lovely lady,” Johnson said, her voice heavy with tears. “She was a wonderful wife and mother.”

After the funeral, though, the family wants answers.

“We don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” Johnson said. “That’s the bottom line. We want to do whatever to prevent this from happening again.”

The Daily News, Longview, Wash.

Copyright 2014 Longview Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(47) Comments

  1. loretta
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    loretta - December 09, 2013 12:49 pm
    Did she go outside to smoke?
  2. soccer_mom2007
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    soccer_mom2007 - December 09, 2013 4:33 pm
    My question is why was she outside?
  3. Frugal in Kelso
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    Frugal in Kelso - December 09, 2013 5:15 pm
    That address corresponds to a "memory care facility." Residents of these facilities usually have dementia issues and/or Alzheimer's. How did a resident of a "memory care facility" get outside, and why wasn't it discovered sooner? It has the appearance of neglect on the part of the staff. My condolences to the woman's family.
  4. detailguy
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    detailguy - December 09, 2013 6:54 pm
    The lawyers will be lining up for this one.
  5. lilshelbs
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    lilshelbs - December 09, 2013 7:45 pm
    By the state law, they have to have an area where they can go outside when ever they please, the state has so many rules it is crazy. they cant lock there doors to the court yard due to state saying it is against the law and you taking there rights away.
  6. Macho123
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    Macho123 - December 09, 2013 8:00 pm
    I thought this happened before another person passed away in the same court yard? Very sorry for the families loss
  7. elthea
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    elthea - December 09, 2013 9:27 pm
    Many condolences to the family. I have fond memories of Mr. Magic coming to CVG. I am not usually one to suggest legal action, but this incident is so serious as to fall under negligent homicide. Particularly with the added delay of calling the coroner and any incomplete documents, like the charting for midnight. If it were my close family member it wouldn't be about money, but to at least temporarily shut this facility down as a strong message regarding the care of our most fragile.
  8. Livin in Kelso
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    Livin in Kelso - December 09, 2013 10:41 pm
    I'm so sorry for your loss! I hope your family is able to get some kind of answers so you will be able to get closure! My heart goes out to the family especially her husband! This should of NEVER happened! In my opinion whatever answers this families receives it will never be good enough because they knew that she has gone out in the courtyard before and wanders at night! It sounds like some serious neglect to me!! What a horrible way to pass away!! This story just breaks my heart!!
  9. DanniR
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    DanniR - December 09, 2013 11:06 pm
    when i worked in a nursing home, you are SUPOSE to check on them every half hour or less at night
  10. Oledaze
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    Oledaze - December 09, 2013 11:46 pm
    So sorry for this family. This circumstance reminds me so much of the problems of care at nursing homes in general, no matter how highly rated they are and no matter how good the care has been in the last week, month or year. My mother was in a top rated home in Oregon and is was only because her many children frequently visited her throughout each week did the problems and errors get noticed and corrected. As far as the door to the courtyard...probably a fire door and cannot be locked by law
  11. Mijodi91
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    Mijodi91 - December 09, 2013 11:54 pm
    I worked as an aid at the facility for a few years and just recently left. ALL the staff is these BEST there and all specially trained. The facility is a memory care facility and most residents have a diagnosis of alzheimers or dementia. This is a horrible tragedy. I loved Norma and her wife Don was the nicest man you'll ever meet. But for being a memory care facility it is locked so that the residents may not leave the facility without a worker or family member for safety purposes.
  12. Mijodi91
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    Mijodi91 - December 10, 2013 12:00 am
    There are courtyards so that the residents may be outside. They cannot be kept inside regardless of the weather. It is considered a restraint and all memory care facilities and other facilities have courtyards. In regard to this tragedy it is horrible and I cried when I heard. The facility does hourly checks on the residents and a lot are every 15 minutes. It may have been neglect but I felt like I needed to say that for rights they cannot be forced to do anything BUT
  13. Mijodi91
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    Mijodi91 - December 10, 2013 12:03 am
    ALL the staff at the gardens are specially trained to be able to reroute the residents as best as possible. At the same time this is a horrible tragedy and because the residents have rights to be able to go outside when they please into the courtyard as to where they can't leave the facility but wander freely and so the doors to the courtyard don't have a big alarms on them and can't be locked due to being a restraint or in case of an emergency.
  14. marlene1952
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    marlene1952 - December 10, 2013 2:04 am
    I would definitely be looking for legal representation!! This was pure NEGLECT on the staff.
    What was the staff doing before they noticed Mrs. Sheldon wasn't in her room? We're they perhaps watching T.V. Having lunch? Who knows. I'm thinking, BIG TIME COVER UP!!!!
    On a more somber note: My condolences to Mrs. Sheldon's family. This should never have happened!! Marlene
  15. retrobeth
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    retrobeth - December 10, 2013 5:34 am
    I would be so unbelievably angry and upset If I were her family. How awful. I know a lot of people who have relatives in Canterbury and I bet they're all a little concerned now as well.
  16. Transplant
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    Transplant - December 10, 2013 7:42 am
    @marlene- "BIG TIME COVER UP!" Really? They reported it. They're working with DSHS and law enforcement. They haven't denied that it happened. What part of this shreeks cover up? Terrible? Yes. Cover up? Please. Best to wait for the report to actually come out before you start hollering grassy knoll.
  17. Butterup20
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    Butterup20 - December 10, 2013 8:44 am
    I worked in a Alzheimer's unit before as a CNA., at night you might get two CNAs and one nurse for the entire floor, usually a 25:1 ratio. As a medical professional you have so many laws to abide by, you have 25 patients who need extensive care, and you have time limit where things must be done. What happened is extremely sad and should have never happened. I don't blame the negligence on the workers, but on the employer for not having adequate staff to care for all the patients safely.
  18. Jay bird
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    Jay bird - December 10, 2013 8:49 am
    My mother has escaped from facilities from nev. to wash.only to be evicted or constrained . Luckily the people at woodland rehab have provided a secure loving environment.she has escaped out of boredom.my heart goes out to this family.
  19. Jay bird
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    Jay bird - December 10, 2013 9:10 am
    My mother as been in facilities from Nevada to Washington , she has escaped from all of them.only to be evicted or rstrained .she has mild dementia,Parkinson's .in a wheelchair but is extremely board. She is now at woodland rehab. In Washington . They seem to have her under contoll.thanks to staff. She does fall ,and escape from time to time. My heart goes. Out to the family.
  20. thenug
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    thenug - December 10, 2013 9:50 am
    Are you kidding me people listen to yourself! They have to let her go out in 10degree weather? And they didn't let her they didn't even know she was gone! This is gross neglect they should be shut down and someone facing some jail time! The staff responsible for this should be locked up! Let me guess why she is freezing to death someone was on facebook and texting or other phone/web related BS!!
  21. Evsgirl
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    Evsgirl - December 10, 2013 10:09 am
    My heart goes out to the family. This is a tragedy for all. Whatever the outcome, I pray changes will be made so this never happens again. My 94 yr old mom is there and I visit frequently, and I see only the best care being given, worth the $5000 a month. I've often thought the nurses are angels. To shut down Gardens wd also be a tragedy. My mom wd have no place to go for the loving and patient care she currently receives.
  22. Transplant
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    Transplant - December 10, 2013 10:57 am
    What kills me about many of the comments is that they convict these amazing people of crimes before the investigation is even complete. So narrow-minded. Many of these professionals could make much more money, working in much easier working conditions in clinics or hospitals, yet they CHOOSE to care for the elderly and disabled. They are truly public servants and yet we would stone them before the investigation is complete. Sad. Pathetic actually.
  23. not suprized
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    not suprized - December 10, 2013 11:15 am
    Yes I do know this place very well. I m so sorry for those that truely care for patients there. BUT this place is so understaffed its ridiculous. One nurse for the whole building each shift an 2 attendants per the 4 units. Many times no one around. Bed check every 5-10-15 min. BS. So sorry for the family.
  24. CastleBravo
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    CastleBravo - December 10, 2013 12:19 pm
    NO facility can give truly great care when they are understaffed. I personally have seen how residents in Canterbury Gardens are left to wander the halls and into others bedrooms without being checked on. The employees may be the greatest in the world that doesn't change the fact that someone has died from lack of supervision. We have family in an Adult Family Home. Its just like this place but can only have a maximum of 6 residents. The people recieve much more 1 on 1 care for much less money
  25. CastleBravo
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    CastleBravo - December 10, 2013 12:22 pm
    People who are interested in Adult Family Homes can find them at this website:


    They are licensed by the state and their are many in our local area. They are hard to spot cause they look just like a normal house not a giant facility.
  26. Strain26
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    Strain26 - December 10, 2013 12:40 pm
    This is so sad. God bless the family and I pray that justice is served where it needs to be served and its true that this was purely NEGLECT no matter what anyone says on here you all know in your hearts that this was a tragedy and CLEARLY NEGLECT.
  27. reallycowlitzcounty
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    reallycowlitzcounty - December 10, 2013 12:58 pm
    First and foremost my heart gors out to the family. In Defense to comments you must never been a cna in a care unit if ur saying the stuff your saying. Try it for awhile see how u would do it differnt. At times u cant. Maybe it is someone fault maybe not no report out to say one way or another. Maybe its not the cna job to change maybe the bigger picture is the law needs to change and get more staff in at night and spend few extra dollors.instead of giving it to people who sit at a desk and do
  28. reallycowlitzcounty
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    reallycowlitzcounty - December 10, 2013 12:58 pm
    Do nothing. Cna r the heart of ur loved ones.
  29. TigerLily
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    TigerLily - December 10, 2013 2:53 pm
    I've done CNA work in nursing homes before and it's true that you can not physically restrain residents. However! There are many other ways of making sure residents are accounted for @ all times. An alarm on the doors that alert the nurses station when they are opened is the most simplest one I can think of that would've prevented this tragedy. My heart goes out to this family. May you get the answers you deserve, and God be with you during this difficult time.
  30. balmer28
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    balmer28 - December 10, 2013 2:59 pm
    let me guess young stupid adults runnin around more worried about their phones and etc close it down
  31. RN2B
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    RN2B - December 10, 2013 5:08 pm
    A simple alert system that lets staff know when a door to the courtyard has been opened could have prevented this ACCIDENT. Don't blame the staff that is ridiculously overworked and understaffed. The fault lies with the management and owners. They have been in this business long enough to figure out how to avoid this type of tragedy.
  32. Jacqui
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    Jacqui - December 10, 2013 5:30 pm
    I am so sad about this,My heart felt feelings for the family...I,m from kelso have been in Tahoe for years,Knowing the hardship of having to put a parent in a nursing home is heart sickening,to say the least,the distance kills me,My brother found her a great fit at Woodland care center Thank god for them...But she went threw many,that doped her so she wouldnt "escape"but stole her great person"she is now back....Im just so sorry this had to happen .
  33. twinsrus2
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    twinsrus2 - December 10, 2013 5:58 pm
    I have a strong feeling that the facility was greatly understaffed. Profit is the goal, and if you have to go without adequate staff, so much better for the bottom line. I believe staff can be very dedicated, but cannot be superheros.
  34. boomer47
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    boomer47 - December 10, 2013 6:43 pm
    The only blame should be placed on the facility. Very understaffed, especially in this kind of facility. The night time is when they wander, wouldn't you think the staff should be beefed up.... I bet it is now!!!!
  35. PDGMike
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    PDGMike - December 10, 2013 7:25 pm
    Don and family. So very sorry this happened. Norma was a lovely lady and deserved much better. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of you.
    Mike Parker
  36. Protecor Of The City77
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    Protecor Of The City77 - December 11, 2013 3:19 am
    Sad situation, my prayers go out to the family.
  37. hugabug
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    hugabug - December 11, 2013 7:19 am
    It is very understandable that everyone is upset and have many questions that need to be addressed and answered regarding the protocol for the safety of the residents and the question of the facility being understaffed, not only at the Canterbury Gardens but at all care facilities. I am going to hold my opinion and wait for the results of the investigation. My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Norma
  38. twinsrus2
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    twinsrus2 - December 11, 2013 9:59 am
    I hope there will be followup stories regarding this sad situation. The public needs to know just what is considered standard procedure and how staffing is scheduled for these at risk folks.
  39. Schoen1
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    Schoen1 - December 11, 2013 11:25 am
    The memory care facility where my mother lived for over two years had locked doors with codes on them and 24/7 staff who did bed checks a few times each night. A door could finally be opened after someone pushed on it for a certain number of seconds because of fire department regulations, but an alarm would signal that the door was open. This incident makes me think a lawsuit would be in order because of the facility's negligence.
  40. LiveLoveLaugh
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    LiveLoveLaugh - December 11, 2013 9:58 pm
    I wonder if they have a keypad locking system for the courtyard? I know other facilities that have them & it's not considered restrictive because when pushed on the door will open after some time but an alarm to that door will sound. They were on all exits of a facility I worked at which helped greatly with our dementia patients.
  41. forpetitionalso
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    forpetitionalso - December 12, 2013 1:38 am
    5000 a month x how many beds. No reason to be understaffed except maybe to fund those fancy cars. that's who needs to be held accountable
  42. wiseguy
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    wiseguy - December 12, 2013 6:12 am
    My great grandmother died at a Longview care facility by choking on her food, at dinner! Fast food worker pay increase? If there is one profession that needs to be taken more seriously with restructuring and a giant pay raise its CNAs.
  43. travelinmama
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    travelinmama - December 12, 2013 9:05 am
    It is obvious since neither of these three people ever contacted the family in 4 days after the horrid death of such a fine lady. If the original owner had been in charge this would never have happened for 1 and if it had he would have been the first person there to find out why and contact the family personally. He truly cared about the residents and their families but son only cares about $$$$$$$$ just ask him he will tell you.
  44. clgoodman
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    clgoodman - December 12, 2013 10:50 am
    This is a big time tragedy that could have been prevented.
    I feel sorry for the family. When you trust that your loved one is getting superior care like they should be you don't have to worry about things like this happening.
    I have been a CNA Caregiver for 30 years. Anybody who knows anything should know to check on a person every two hours. If they have Alzheimer's like this poor lady did you need to be aware of her whereabouts at all times.
    May i suggest an AFH? 6 bed facilities and A1 care!
  45. clgoodman
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    clgoodman - December 12, 2013 4:06 pm
  46. forpetitionalso
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    forpetitionalso - December 13, 2013 1:02 am
    Well with all the hope in the world the "son" eont be having money for as ling as mr majic wont have his wife and dawn not have her mother then stick the son in a room to wander
  47. DW111
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    DW111 - December 13, 2013 3:04 pm
    Wow, petition, that was very prophetic and almost discernible as english!! When I was very young, I remember my Dad and I driving by a nursing home on a very cold evening. Dad stopped the car and backed up, and I was peering over the seat to see why. There was an elderly gentleman in a wheel chair stuck outside the building. He got out and pushed the wheel chair up to a locked door and banged on it until someone opened it and let him in. When Dad got back in the car he was really mad about it. It is very sad that this could happen, but obviously it does and is very tragic.
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