OSSIPEE — A residential care facility in Tamworth is defending itself from a lawsuit filed by the family of an Alzheimer’s and dementia patient who went missing last year.
The suit cites the facility's allowing the man to walk away unattended and a police theory that he hitchhiked to Maine.
On Sept. 10, 2018, at around 4 p.m., Dwain “Dewey” Poulin, 84, was reported missing from his assisted living residence at Tamworth Community Living Inc., located at 22 Mays Way.
Poulin was known to suffer from dementia/Alzheimer’s disease. He was last seen wearing a blue plaid shirt, blue jeans, black sneakers and a baseball cap with “NH State Bird” and a picture of a mosquito on it.
This past Sept. 10, Poulin’s daughters, Cheryl Poulin of Saco, Maine, and Kim Cullins of Tamworth, filed suit against the home through their attorneys, Benjamin Gideon and Dov Sacks of the law firm of Berman & Simmons P.A. of Lewiston, Maine. The sisters are identified in the suit as Dewey Poulin's "duly appointed co-powers of attorney."
The lawsuit is a 10-page complaint and demand for jury trial.
“This is a negligence and breach of contract action for damages within the jurisdiction of this court arising out of the failure, during the period of Nov. 5, 2016-Sept. 10, 2018, of defendant Tamworth Community Living Inc. to adequately supervise Dwain Poulin (“Mr. Poulin”), a known sufferer of Alzheimer’s dementia, and to reasonably guard against the well-known risk of elopement, resulting in Mr. Poulin’s Sept. 10, 2018, elopement, from which he has never been found to this day,” the suit says in part.
It goes on to say that Poulin was first admitted on April 25, 2014, because of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. In the years since, the facility’s management reported that Poulin had become increasingly confused.
He reportedly wandered away from the facility on May 9, 2018. But with the help of the Tamworth Fire Department and police agencies, Poulin was located safely.
Following that incident, his daughters provided Poulin with a GPS tracker, but the Tamworth Community Living didn’t think it “met their expectations.” The suit says the facility’s management didn’t find an alternative.
Tamworth Community Living Inc. describes itself on its website, tamworthliving.com, this way:
“Tamworth Community Living is a 15-bed facility with 24/7 on-site staff who are LNA’s, experienced caregivers ensuring every resident is properly cared for,” states the site.
“Tamworth Community Living activities are governed by the function level of the individual. All residents are encouraged to maintain the highest level possible. Activities include puzzles, TV, Weekly Zumba games, Monthly Church service, walks, etc.”
Tamworth Community Living's attorney, Kenneth Murphy of Coughlin, Rainboth, Murphy & Lown, PA of Portsmouth, filed an answer to the complaint on Oct. 17.
he wrote that in mid-June of 2018, Poulin's primary-care provider suggested that he be placed in a "locked facility" if his "aggression" became unmanageable. But the family said putting him in such a place would "kill him." Murphy wrote that Tamworth Community Living was given permission by the durable powers of attorney to allow Poulin to take unsupervised walks.
"According to the police chief, someone must have given him a ride out of the area, resulting in him never being found to this day," wrote Murphy.
"This facility denies it was negligent in the care of Mr. Poulin and could not have reasonably anticipated that a third party would give him a ride when he took his regular unsupervised unattended walk out of the facility the day of his disappearance. Therefore, the facility could not have reasonably prevented the disappearance of Mr. Poulin."
In April, Tamworth Police Chief Dana Littlefield released an update on Poulin that explained he might have been trying to get to Maine.
"It is our belief that Dewey may have attempted to hitchhike back to his childhood home in Wilton, Maine, as he has tried before in the past," he said.
Tamworth Community Living's answer disputes a number of the complaints raised by the lawsuit.
For instance, the answer addresses the GPS tracker. It says that the device "repeatedly" said that Poulin had left when he had not. Poulin often removed it. Staff were unable to find a functional device that he would wear.
The plaintiffs lawsuit claims negligence, breach of contract and Consumer Protection Act violation, which the facility denies.
The plaintiffs asks for a court judgment against the Tamworth Community Living for the following reasons:
• An amount of money sufficient to compensate for Dwain Poulin’s personal injuries, plus interest and costs.
• An amount of money, computed on a daily basis, representing the difference between the amount of consideration paid by or on behalf of Poulin to the company for occupancy, board, comfort, safety and care and the actual value of the services provided by it, plus interest and costs.
• An amount of money, computed on a daily basis, representing the difference between the value of the services which the Tamworth Community Living represented it would provide to Poulin and the value of the services it actually provided, plus interest and costs.
• An amount of money equal to three times the actual loss, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees, plus interest and costs.
For its part, Tamworth Community Living is asking the court or jury to dismiss the sisters' demand for judgment.
Murphy listed several "affirmative defenses." Among them are that the plaintiffs' claims are not covered under RSA 358-A (consumer protection law) and that Dwain Poulin was comparatively at fault.
A proposed structuring order or orders from the parties is due Nov. 5.