State investigates death of assisted-living resident

Agency looks at home of Anchorage man who died from hypothermia

Posted: Thursday, January 22, 2004

ANCHORAGE - The state is investigating the death of a man who died of exposure after walking away from an assisted-living home.

James B. Hamilton, 69, was found dead Dec. 13 in a downtown ballfield near an Anchorage elementary school.

The state's Office of the Long Term Care Ombudsman is investigating the death, deputy ombudsman Suzan Armstrong-Silva said Tuesday.

The agency is looking into the assisted-living home where Hamilton lived, and also at the larger picture of community care to see whether more needs to be done to keep vulnerable seniors safe, particularly in winter.

Armstrong-Silva said the agency is not making any assumptions about Hamilton's care at the home.

A passer-by spotted Hamilton's body around 10:45 a.m., lying on a cement walkway on the east side of a bathroom building, said police spokesman Ron McGee. He was fully clothed, his coat covered in frost.

Officials at the Home Sweet Home Assisted Living Center saw him around 3:30 p.m. Dec. 12, McGee said.

The home reported Hamilton missing to police late the next day. By that time, police had already found Hamilton and were trying to identify him.

Temperatures in Anchorage from the time Hamilton was last seen to when he was found ranged from the low 20s to mid-20s, according to National Weather Service records.

The State Medical Examiners Office ruled Hamilton's death accidental and said it was caused by hypothermia.

Police and Hamilton's family say they do not believe the assisted-living home did anything wrong. Hamilton was free to come and go from the home as he pleased and was known to be gone for days at a time.

Armstrong-Silva said one of the first things her office investigated was whether police required a waiting period for reporting a vulnerable senior missing. She said she was assured there is not.

McGee said Tuesday that an official missing-person report could be made to police anytime, whether it's for an adult or a child. He said citizens do not have to wait 24 hours before they can report a missing person.

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