Safety Considerations For The Use Of Restraints In Nursing Homes

Nursing home facilities sometimes find it necessary to restrain a resident. That can happen to protect the resident (for example, from falls or wandering off), other residents, or staff.  Restraints in nursing homes come in two forms -- physical and chemical.  As Des Moines personal injury lawyers, we’re aware that physical and chemical restraints can be as helpful as they are harmful to nursing home residents.

Federal law is supposed to limit the use of restraint in nursing care facilities. The Nursing Home Reform Law of 1987 provides that nursing home residents have the right to be free from physical or chemical restraints imposed for purposes of discipline or convenience, or that are otherwise not required to treat the resident's medical symptoms. Of course, the obvious loopholes in that law allow for the use of physical or chemical restraints when necessary for the resident's medical treatment, which allows nursing facilities to cover the prohibited uses for "discipline" or "convenience" by claiming that there was some medical reason for the restraint. 

Some nursing homes place residents in physical restraint devices. Unfortunately, although physical restraints are primarily intended to protect the resident, medical science demonstrates that physical restraints are not effective and can be harmful to the resident's health. Medical research discloses that the use of physical restraints, even when done properly, on residents in nursing facilities or assisted living facilities can harm the resident in various ways. Physical restraints may lead to confusion, aggression, lethargy, a feeling of isolation, and depression in addition to numerous other mental and physical problems.

Sometimes physical restraints aren't used; instead, restraint is accomplished through the use of chemicals. Nursing home residents may be given sedatives to calm them. Chemical restraint is particularly common for residents who frequently disobey facility rules or ignore staff requests. Danger arises when nursing facility employees illegally increase, contrary to a doctor's recommendations, the prescribed dose of such medications for patients that they're having a difficult time controlling. Family members may notice such overdosing during visits with the resident, who can demonstrate noticeable changes in mood or behavior, such as lethargy, sleepiness, exhaustion, and violent mood swings.

Given the risks of physical and chemical restraints in nursing homes, the federal government recommends that various types of rehabilitative measures be taken instead of restraints. Those alternative methods have been shown to be safer and more effective in nursing and assisted living facilities. Although the new approach differs from patient to patient, rehabilitation focuses on residents' right to choose how they are cared for, along with the continued resident's continued mental health.

Because of the dangers of restraints and the fact that federal law only allows the use of chemical and physical restraints under certain circumstances, nursing care facilities will often try to hide the use of restraints from family members when they come to visit. Like many other areas of nursing home abuse and liability, often the best defense against such misconduct is watchful family members. Indications that a family member has been subject to physical or chemical restraint include visible restraining devices in the resident’s room, especially on bed frames, physical marks of straps and other types of restraints, and signs that the resident has been over-medicated on a sedative or similar product.

Please feel free to contact us if you need the assistance of a Des Moines nursing home injury lawyer.

Harley Erbe