A chemical restraint refers to the use of psycho-therapeutic medication or other drug to control a person's behavior. Sometimes chemical restraints are necessary for the safety of the patient or others. However, the law requires that the use of any chemical restraint is a last resort and should never be used merely for staff convenience.
Some of the more common psycho-therapeutic medications used in nursing homes are:
An elderly or disabled person is a victim of abuse when he or she is medicated for an improper purpose. Due to chronic under-staffing, it is common for nurses to request unnecessary medication to sedate a patient, thus reducing the amount of care nurses must provide. A sedated patient is less likely to ask for assistance. Because such practice violates both state and federal law, it is our experience that nurses will often falsely report or greatly exaggerate "anti-social behavior" to a physician or family member. Be skeptical. If you have not personally witnessed such behavior, question whether it is fabricated.
In a case handled by the elder abuse lawyers at The Gebler Firm, PC, a woman admitted her 80-year-old father to a nursing home to receive physical therapy. She returned to find her father tied into a wheelchair. His physical therapy had been discontinued, and he was placed on three separate psychotropic medications in her absence. He was labeled "incontinent" and forced to wear an adult diaper, even though he was able to toilet independently prior to his admission.
We investigated the records and learned that the doctor and facility staff had fraudulently charted the daughter's consent to chemical restraints to control anti-social behavior. On the dates that the falsified consent forms were "verified" by the physician and facility staff, the daughter was out of the country and unavailable by phone.
In this particular case, the use of medication to restrain the patient was clearly illegal because it was unnecessary and administered without legal consent. However, even when the use of a chemical restraint is necessary and consensual, the law requires that healthcare providers make frequent attempts to decrease the dosage, so that the patient can maintain the highest quality of life possible.
The law defines a physical restraint as "any physical or mechanical device or material attached or adjacent to a patient's body that the patient cannot remove easily, which has the effect of restricting the patient's freedom of movement." Many types of physical restraints are used in nursing homes, such as a "lap buddy," vests or pelvic belts that tie a patient into a bed or wheelchair, or bed rails that prevent a patient from getting out of bed. Sometimes food trays are used to restrain a patient in a wheelchair.
In other cases, physical restraints are necessary to keep a confused, weak or injured patient from rising unassisted from a bed or wheelchair. However, a physical restraint cannot be used to keep a resident tied down for staff convenience.
In one case handled by the attorneys at The Gebler Firm, PC, a patient was transferred from a hospital to a nursing home so she could receive physical therapy and be treated for anemia. When the patient realized she was being admitted into a nursing home and not another hospital, she refused to sign the admission papers and stated that she wanted to go home.
Instead of her right to leave being honored, she was admitted against her will. When she tried to leave on her own, she was restrained in a wheelchair or bed for 24 hours per day. She was forced to hold her bladder because facility staff refused to untie her and assist her to the bathroom. They placed a towel between her legs and told her to urinate into the towel.
Because she was "not cooperating," the staff asked the attending physician to order anti-psychotic drugs, which he prescribed without ever meeting the patient. Although she had no family to speak for her, she was lucky that a concerned estate planning attorney tracked her down after a missed appointment. When the attorney found her in the nursing home, the patient begged to be taken home. After determining that the resident was competent to make her own decisions, the attorney escorted the woman from the facility. After regaining her strength, the woman was able to return home and live independently for many years. Altogether, she was held captive in the nursing home for 47 days against her will.
Both the facility and the attending physician in this particular case repeatedly ignored the duties they owed under federal and state law, including:
Nursing home negligence takes many forms, and overuses of medications or restraints is one of them. Look for the following signs, which may indicate that chemical or physical restraints are being used for an improper purpose:
If you believe your loved one may have been restrained chemically or physically for staff convenience or another improper purpose while he or she was in a long-term care facility, contact the elder abuse lawyers at The Gebler Firm, PC, for a free consultation. We are available to speak with you by phone at 818-876-9600, or you may submit an online consultation request. With offices in Calabasas and Long Beach, we proudly serve clients throughout Southern California.
We would be honored to speak with you about your rights and explain the options that are available. We do not charge any attorney fees unless we obtain a recovery.
Note: We encourage you to act quickly. The law limits the amount of time you and your loved one have to pursue legal action. In some cases, this can be as short as six months.
Disclaimer: The information on this site is for informational and educational purposes only. None of the medical information is intended to be a substitute for professional medical judgment. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions.