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Q: I have reason to believe that the nursing home where my mother lives has been using medication and physical restraints to keep her and other patients under control. Should I call the police? Or should I contact an attorney?

A:

Both.

For over 20 years, federal regulations have forbidden the use of physical or chemical restraints in nursing homes as a means to keep residents docile or under control. Now, clearly there are some situations where a resident may present a danger to herself or other people, and in those cases some form of restraints can be justified. But there are protocols in place to make sure this doesn’t become abusive. In most situations, a physician must order that physical restraints or drugs be used to control the resident.

In some nursing homes, those rules are regularly disobeyed. As a routine matter, residents may be to the following forms of abusive treatment:

  • They are forced to wear oversized padded mitts on their hands, which prevent them from grasping or manipulating objects.
  • Bed rails, cuffs, and straps confine them in their beds—often holding them completely immobile—for hours or days at a time.
  • They are placed in special chairs with lap trays—known as geri-chairs—to prevent them from standing up or walking at will through the building.
  • Specially designed vests and belts make them unable to rise from their chairs or wheelchairs.
  • Powerful antipsychotic drugs make it impossible for them to object to neglect or ill-treatment at the hands of caregivers.

Sometimes the techniques used to restrain Pennsylvania nursing home residents are very subtle. A feeble patient can be forced to remain in place by wedge cushions or bed sheets tucked tightly around her body. A patient in a wheelchair may be effectively immobilized by parking her facing a wall. Caregiver staff members do this to avoid dealing with “nuisance” patients who make frequent demands, or to punish residents who resist staff control.

Your Best Response When you Suspect Abuse

If you believe that your mother is living in an abusive or neglectful assisted living facility, then your first priority should be removing her to a safer place to live. You do not want your mother to be at risk for even one more day, and you certainly don’t want her exposed to possible reprisals if you register a complaint with authorities.

For the sake of the other residents of the nursing home, you will want to alert law enforcement about possible abusive conditions. You also may want to consider filing a civil lawsuit on your mother’s behalf to get compensation for the harm that has been done to her and payment for any medical treatment that will help her recover from that abuse. In both cases, your best option will be to contact a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyer.

Our Harrisburg personal injury attorneys at Schmidt Kramer have a great deal of experience in dealing with nursing home claims. We can tell you what local and federal authorities should receive in your report about a dangerous nursing home, or we can even contact those authorities on your behalf. To get your questions answered, contact us at 717-888-8888 or (888) 476-0807 toll-free to schedule a free, confidential appointment. Regardless of where you live in Pennsylvania, we can work with you to get your mother to a safe place to live and seek full compensation for the indignities she has suffered.

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