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Jonathan Rosenfeld

July 14, 2023

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Unprescribed physical or chemical restraints violate medical ethics when health professionals and nursing home staff restricts freedom.

The damaging effects can harm the nursing home residents’ physical and mental well-being.

Government agencies heavily control physical restraints to ensure the nursing home resident or their representative has given informed consent.

Was a beloved family member physically restrained against their will?

The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC represent dementia patients and other residents whose movement was restrained by a physical or mechanical device without consent.

Contact our nursing home abuse lawyers at (888) 424-5757 or use the online form to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.

All confidential or sensitive information you share with our legal team remains private through an attorney-client relationship.

Physical Restraints in Nursing Homes


Use of Physical Restraints in Nursing Homes

In nursing homes, restraints refer to limiting a resident’s movement. These can be broadly categorized into two types: chemical or physical restraints.

What Constitutes a Physical Restraint?

Physical restraint in a nursing facility involves any physical or mechanical device, material, or equipment attached to or near a resident’s body that the individual cannot easily remove, restricting freedom of movement or normal access to one’s body.

Examples of physical restraints include lap trays, bed rails, and hand mitts.

Physical restraints can be extremely harmful, leading to serious injuries such as fractured bones.

While these devices are sometimes used to prevent falls or injuries, their use can often lead to a higher risk of harm.

For instance, a resident may attempt to remove or circumvent the restraint, leading to falls or other accidents.

Moreover, prolonged use of physical restraints can lead to muscle atrophy, bedsores, and other health complications.

What is Considered a Chemical Restraint?

A chemical restraint involves using medication to control a resident’s behavior or restrict their freedom of movement.

These are often psychoactive drugs prescribed to manage a mental condition or medical condition like Alzheimer’s disease.

However, the misuse of these drugs can lead to unnecessary sedation, making it easier for nursing home staff to manage residents but potentially causing adverse effects on the resident’s well-being.

Chemical restraints should not be used as a first resort or for the convenience of the nursing home staff.

They should only be used when necessary for the resident’s safety and with informed consent from the resident or their family member.

Improper use of chemical restraints can lead to severe injuries, including physical harm from falls or other accidents caused by over-sedation and mental harm from the anxiety and confusion these drugs can cause.

Nursing home restrictions are governed by state and federal laws, which aim to protect every resident from abuse and neglect.

The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act on Restraints

The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act provides specific guidelines on using restraints.

The Act emphasizes that restraints should only be used when necessary for medical treatment and only under a doctor’s order.

The law requires that the least restrictive method be used and that restraints should not be used as a form of punishment or for the convenience of the staff.

The Act also mandates that residents and their families be informed about using restraints and that written consent must be obtained.

Violations of these provisions can lead to legal action against the nursing home.

Federal Laws and Regulations on Restraints

At the federal level, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) regulate restraints. These regulations stipulate that restraints must not be used unless needed to ensure the resident’s physical safety or to assist in the healing of a medical condition.

Like the Illinois Act, federal regulations also require that restraints be based on a detailed and individualized resident assessment and that the least restrictive alternative be used.

Violations of these regulations can result in penalties, including fines and loss of federal funding.

The Risks and Consequences of Using Restraints

Using restraints carries significant risks and potential consequences for residents.

Physical and Emotional Impact of Restraints on Residents

Restraints can have a profound physical and emotional impact on nursing home residents. Physically, restraints can lead to various adverse effects, from minor discomfort to severe injuries.

Restraints can cause physical harm, including skin abrasions, reduced muscle strength, and in severe cases, broken bones from falls or struggling against the restraints.

Emotionally, being restrained can lead to humiliation, distress, and anxiety. It can also exacerbate symptoms of mental conditions such as dementia.

Using restraints can be particularly traumatic for residents with a history of abuse or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Potential for Abuse and Neglect Through Restraint Use

Restraints can also be a tool for abuse and neglect in nursing homes.

In some cases, restraints are used not for the safety or well-being of the resident but for the convenience of the staff.

This can lead to situations where nursing home residents are restrained for extended periods, leading to physical harm and emotional distress.

In other cases, restraints may be used as punishment or control, a clear violation of residents’ rights, and a form of nursing home abuse.

When and How Restraints Should Be Used

While restraints should be minimized, there are situations where their use may be necessary for the safety of the resident or others.

The Proper Procedure for Implementing Restraints

Restraints should only be used as a last resort when other methods have failed and the resident poses a significant risk to themselves or other residents.

The decision to use restraints should be made by a physician based on a thorough assessment of the resident’s condition and behavior.

Before implementing restraints, the nursing home resident and their family should be informed about the reasons for using them and the potential risks involved.

Informed (written) consent to use a physical restraint should be obtained whenever possible.

The least restrictive type of restraint should be used, and the resident should be monitored regularly to ensure their safety and comfort.

Alternatives to Restraints

Many alternatives to restraints can be used in nursing homes to ensure the safety and well-being of nursing home residents.

These include environmental modifications, such as removing hazards that could cause falls, and behavioral interventions, such as providing activities to keep residents engaged and reduce agitation.

In some cases, changes to the resident’s medication regimen may also be helpful.

For example, if a nursing home resident is agitated, treating the pain effectively may reduce the need for restraints. Nursing homes need to explore these alternatives before resorting to restraints.

Legal options are available to hold the facility accountable and ensure the safety and well-being of your loved one.

Hiring a personal injury lawyer can help you pursue a legal claim for any harm that occurred as a result of the improper use of restraints.

Sometimes, this may include physical injuries, financial losses, or emotional trauma.

Call us at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free) to schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal rights and options.

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