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Physical Restraints in Nursing Homes

Before 1990, nursing homes used physical restraints indiscriminately. With some increased oversight, various restraint methods are still used today. Many senior citizens subjected to this indignity sustain injuries, both minor and major.

If your loved one has been harmed by the use of physical restraints, the nursing home abuse attorneys at Levin & Perconti can help.

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Why Do Nursing Homes Use Physical Restraints?

Nursing homes might use physical restraints for different reasons.

Some caregivers believe that people with functional disabilities, mobility or behavioral problems, cognitive disturbances, or a history of multiple falls should be restrained for safety. The safety of other residents is an added concern.

Restraints are sometimes used for convenience or due to a shortage of manpower. Other reasons include ignorance of restraint alternatives or a negative attitude toward elderly people.

Types of Physical Restraints Used in Nursing Homes

A physical restraint is any method or device attached to or near a patient’s body that cannot be easily removed. They’re designed to restrict freedom of movement and even prohibit normal access to one’s body.

Some examples of physical restraints include:

  • Lap belts
  • Recliners that lean back, preventing easy movement
  • Side rails
  • Concave mattresses that prevent the patient from getting out of bed
  • Vests or belts on the wrists, pelvis, or waist that restrict movement
  • Trays or other devices that can prevent rising from a chair
  • Orthotics

When a patient in a nursing home needs to be restrained for a valid medical reason, nursing home staff are responsible for the appropriate and safe use of restraints. Patients should be periodically released from restraints to use the toilet or do motion exercises for the body region that is restrained.

What Are Chemical Restraints, When Are They Used, and Are They Safe?

Chemical restraints are drugs used to sedate and pacify patients. Drugs that are prescribed by a physician to treat a specific illness are not considered to be a chemical restraint.

Any drug that has a calming or disorienting effect can be used. Some common types of drugs used as chemical restraints include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Anxiolytics
  • Sedative-hypnotics

If a drug is used as a punishment for a patient or simply for the convenience of the staff, this is a violation of ethics and law.

Harmful effects of using chemical restraints can include:

  • Agitation
  • Sedation
  • Withdrawal
  • Memory loss or difficulty
  • Decreased function
  • Increased risk of falls
  • Movement or gait disorders

Some of the drugs used as chemical restraints have legitimate medical uses and can be administered in those instances. Laws specifically prohibit their use as a means of control or convenience.

Are Physical Restraints Effective at Preventing Falls?

A review of nine studies revealed that the use of physical restraints did not reduce falls. Conversely, a decreased use of physical restraints did not increase the number of falls.

Can Physical Restraints Harm Nursing Home Residents?

Physical restraints are not an effective means of protecting patients from injuries, but they can cause injuries. The risk of injury from restraints may be associated with a patient’s physical and mental condition rather than with the restraints themselves.

Nonetheless, there are injury risks that include:

  • Bruising
  • Ulcers
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Urinary and bowel problems
  • Malnutrition
  • Loss of independence
  • Loss of muscle strength and balance
  • Decreased cardiovascular endurance
  • Agitation

Oftentimes, discomfort and anxiety increase with the use of restraints. This can result in a higher risk of injury or death.

Laws and Guidance Concerning the Use of Physical Restraints in Nursing Homes

The Nursing Home Bill of Rights, which was passed as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 (OBRA ‘87), states that nursing home residents have the right to be free from chemical and physical restraints when imposed for discipline or convenience.

The legislation stipulated that these kinds of restraints could only be used to ensure the safety of the patient or other residents.

In addition to federal law, Illinois passed the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act that gives patients clearly defined legal rights. Many of the points included in this Act address the same issues raised by the federal law and are intended to make sure that nursing home residents are treated with dignity and respect.

Alternatives to Physical Restraints

Every effort should be made to respect the dignity and autonomy of an older person. Some alternatives can and should be considered to promote the overall well-being of a nursing home patient. Also, these alternatives can promote continued self-reliance.

Alternatives to physical restraints may include things like alternate bed and chair placement, non-slip footwear, and shock-absorbing floor coverings. Therapeutic touch can be helpful, as can encouraging participation in physical activities with regular rest periods to prevent fatigue.

A lack of training and awareness of available resources among nursing home staff is often to blame for the use of physical restraints. However, this is no excuse for a lack of proper care.

How Can Levin & Perconti Help if Your Loved One Was Injured by Physical Restraints at a Nursing Home?

An experienced elder abuse lawyer can help victims and families affected by nursing home abuse and neglect pursue justice and financial compensation. Having an attorney increases the chances of receiving a fair settlement.

The goal of our lawyers at Levin & Perconti is to protect citizens of Illinois from the sort of harm that results from nursing home abuse and neglect. Our compassionate attorneys can help you get the justice you deserve. Our team has recovered over $500 million in nursing home verdicts and settlements.

We strive to represent every client to the best of our abilities, resulting in our inclusion on some of the nation’s best lawyer lists, including the Illinois Top 100 and the Best Lawyers in America.

If you have a loved one who has been injured or died as a result of nursing home abuse and neglect, you need a lawyer who will fight to hold the responsible parties accountable. Contact the nursing home attorneys at Levin & Perconti today for a free consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About the Use of Physical Restraints in Nursing Homes

If you’re considering taking legal action against a nursing home for the abuse or neglect of your loved one, you likely have many questions. We are here to provide you with answers and transparency throughout the process.

When you suspect neglect or abuse, a report should be made through the Illinois Department of Public Health either online or by calling 800-252-4343.

You should also call an attorney. A seasoned nursing home injury lawyer will be aware of available resources and represent you or your loved one if needed. Based on the situation, you could contact a senior adult advocate. In addition, Illinois social services or adult care services can help. Your loved one’s physician may be a resource, as well as law enforcement if you believe criminal activity has potentially occurred.

In some cases, the answer is yes, especially if your loved one is considered legally incompetent, such as if they suffer from dementia. You also can bring a suit on their behalf if you have been granted Power of Attorney, or if your loved one has passed away and you are the executor of their estate. The law can be confusing, so it’s best to contact Levin & Perconti so we can consider the specifics of your family member’s case.

Illinois law holds nursing home owners responsible for the actions of their employees or agents. A lawsuit can be brought against the owners and operators of the nursing home and, in some cases, against nursing home staff who may be directly responsible for the injuries.

Nothing. Levin & Perconti works for our clients on a contingency fee basis. That means you don’t pay anything unless we successfully resolve your case. Our fee is deducted from the settlement or verdict amount at a predetermined rate.

Cases differ. Depending on the specific facts of your case and other contributing factors, the litigation process can take anywhere from several months to several years. Many cases settle out of court, but the Levin & Perconti attorneys will take cases to trial if needed to ensure you receive maximum compensation. Either way, it’s important to reach out to a lawyer as soon as possible.