Son claims The Merriman lost track of 82-year-old woman with dementia
By: Bob Jones
AKRON, Ohio — An 82-year-old resident of an Akron assisted living and skilled nursing care facility was found dead from hypothermia in a wooded area behind the building Tuesday morning, according to the Summit County Medical Examiner.
Joan Meredith had dementia and her death has left her loved ones devastated and confused.
Her son, Tom Freiheit, believes the staff at The Merriman on Merriman Road lost track of the senior citizen and mistakenly thought Meredith had been signed out of the facility by family.
|An 82-year-old resident of an Akron assisted living and nursing care facility was found dead from hypothermia in a wooded area behind the building Tuesday morning, according to the Summit County Medical Examiner.|
"I just don't understand how she disappeared and they didn't know she was gone and she died the way she died," Freiheit said. "All the levels of care and everybody dropped the ball. The whole entity is an egregious failure. It's horrific."
Freiheit said he moved his mother into The Merriman a few years ago as she began struggling with some of the effects of dementia. He said his mom was funny, loving and enjoyed playing bingo and cards with other residents.
"We put her in a safe spot. She felt comfortable there," he said.
On Tuesday morning, Tom and his wife, Renae, were panicked and bewildered when the facility called with a question: "When are you going to bring your mom back?"
Renae Freiheit responded, "We don't have her. What are you talking about?"
The couple rushed to the facility and they were met with confusion among the workers. It seemed no one knew where Meredith was.
However, there was a sense of relief albeit for a short period of time.
"When we first walked into the facility, the lady at the desk said, 'We found your mom.'" Renae Freiheit said. "And, I'm like, 'Oh great, where is she?'"
Renae said when employees didn't give her a straight answer, she called 911. After hanging up, she noticed an ambulance pulling onto the grounds. A firefighter would eventually tell the family that Meredith was found dead in a wooded area behind the building.
"The fireman's exact words were that 'she's been here for a while,'" Renae Freiheit recalled.
Tom Freiheit believes his mother may have been out in the elements for at least 40 hours. The couple said they were told by an employee that the senior was not in her room to receive medication at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
According to the Freiheits, the employee also indicated Meredith was marked in the system as signed out of the building by the family, but relatives had not done that.
"No. Epic failure. Failure on so many parts," Tom Freiheit said.
News 5 went inside The Merriman to ask how all of this happened. A reporter was told someone from the management team would get back in touch, but as of Wednesday evening, there was no response.
Akron police said they responded to the scene, but their involvement ended when it was determined that no foul play was involved.
Meredith's family hired attorneys Eric Henry and Tim Misny, who are considering filing a civil lawsuit. Henry said the Ohio Department of Health will conduct an investigation.
A message was left with ODH officials seeking comment on the process of that investigation.
In the meantime, the heartbroken Freiheit family stressed it's hard to explain how hard it is to lose a loved one this way.
"We understand dementia and I just feel there should have been some kind of check and balance that she was not in her room for that many days," Renae Freiheit said. "We thought she was safe."
On Friday, The Merriman provided this statement to News 5:
The Merriman is a building located in Akron, Ohio that includes an area designated as a licensed skilled nursing facility, as well as a separate and distinct area designated as a licensed assisted living community for older adults. In general, the residents of the assisted living have less clinical needs than the residents of the skilled nursing facility, and are on a whole more physically able, tending to move more freely both within and outside of the assisted living building.
During the week beginning on Sunday, November 6, 2022, one of the residents of the assisted living section of The Merriman exited the building and was subsequently found deceased. The Merriman is devasted as a result of this unfortunate tragedy, and is continuing to investigate the incident in order to determine what happened.