80-year-old Marie Duddy had severe dementia and disappeared from Savannah Place Senior Living on Friday, May 20. Staff first noticed she was missing when they saw the photos of her grandchildren that she was carrying around with her on the ground outside the front door. Duddy was found dead the next day in a marsh in a nearby neighborhood. The Charleston Police Department’s incident report says Marie Duddy had attempted to escape in the past, but that Friday was the first time she was successful. Now Savannah Place Senior Living is under investigation by the Department of Health and Environmental Control just two months after they were cited for under-staffing.

The report from that investigation in March says a family member of a resident complained after their mother’s hip and humerus were fractured when another resident pushed her down. The person says during mealtimes, the facility is under-staffed and the employees “stand around gossiping”. DHEC found Savannah Place was under-staffed, not adhering to the rule of one staff member per every eight residents at peak hours. They were also cited for missing documentation.

News 2 spoke to the attorney of Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, David Zoellner, and he has the five things to ask an assisted living facility to make sure your loved ones are safe. One, make sure to ask about the staffing ratio.

Zoellner says, “Look up and down hallways, whether or not you can see any staff member, that is if a resident were having a problem do you see if there is anyone that would happen to even notice it?”

Two, ask about their in and out policies for residents.

Zoellner says, “There’s limitations on, the doors would be alarmed or locked. Or whether there is some person observing the facility to notice if someone would have gone out.”

Three, check their licenses. Marie Duddy had severe dementia and Zoellner says Savannah Place was not licensed by DHEC for that care.

He says, “The licensing for this facility did not indicate that they normally cared for people with Alzheimer’s.”

Four, tour the surrounding area.

Zoellner says, “Look to see what type of neighborhood this is. If there is a major highway immediately out the front door, they might consider that as well.”

Five, do you need minimal care from assisted living, or more care from a nursing home?

He says, “Perhaps there are ways that someone with more progressive difficulties can still be safely kept there without being moved to a nursing home.”

Click here for more on DHEC regulations for assisted living facilities.

And if you think someone is experiencing abuse in an assisted living facility or nursing home, you can contact Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities at 1-866-275-7273.