Residents of nursing homes are not prisoners. They are neither violent nor dangerous. They are legally independent adults who, because of age, illness, or infirmity, have to rely on other people for help in the essential activities of daily living.
The problem is that most nursing homes are profit-driven commercial enterprises. While many caregivers and staff members at these institutions truly worry about the residents’ wellbeing, management believes that individualized care is more costly than simple crowd control. It’s a constant challenge to maintain residents’ dignity in the face of the profit motive.
Some nursing homes don’t even bother to try to balance the competing pressures—they take the easy way out, even if it’s demeaning to the residents. And that sometimes involves the use of physical and chemical restraints to prevent residents from leaving the premises.
Pennsylvania Nursing Home Elopement and the Use of Restraints
Residents “wandering off” the premises—called elopement by senior care professionals—is a constant worry for the management and staff, even at well-run long-term care facilities. Because so many residents have some degree of dementia, they can easily forget that they should not leave the property without supervision. Once the patient is out-of-doors, she may become disoriented in the unfamiliar surroundings. She might walk into traffic, or fall into a ditch or river, or simply get lost and suffer the effects of exposure.
The best nursing homes make sure they hire adequate numbers of engaged, alert employees to help manage the residents in a way that respects their dignity as adults. They provide adequate training to the staff. They install safety devices to make it hard for a resident to leave without authorization. They also make sure to monitor the location of all residents throughout the day.
Less ethical nursing homes aren’t willing to spend the money to supervise residents adequately. They may install locks or latches on residents’ doors to prevent them from leaving. They may use physical restraints to prevent residents from traveling at will throughout the facility (as well as outside) or from leaving their beds or wheelchairs. Some nursing homes prevent elopement by dosing residents with powerful anti-psychotic drugs that prevents them from taking initiative to leave the building.
Such actions almost always constitute nursing home abuse in Pennsylvania. Under federal and state regulations, physical restraints may only be used as a last resort following a doctor’s authorization. Likewise, drugging residents is unacceptable as a means of managing them; drugs may be used only as prescribed by a physician to treat specific mental health problems. Even the use of locks is both abusive and dangerous, because locks hamper the residents’ ability to escape in a fire or similar emergency.
When the Nursing Home Becomes a Danger to its Residents
It’s an incident of nursing home neglect when the staff and management allow a resident to wander away. It’s a case of nursing home abuse if the management’s policy allows (or encourages) the use of any restraints as an easy way to prevent elopement. If you have just discovered that your elderly relative or spouse has been victimized in either of these ways while a nursing home resident, you can demand compensation for any physical, emotional, or psychological harm that has been done to the resident, to yourself, and to other members of your family as a result of this incident.
The Harrisburg nursing home abuse lawyers of Schmidt Kramer couldn’t agree more. They have long fought against neglectful and abusive nursing home managers and owners who have failed in their duty to provide proper care for some of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens.
Call the Schmidt Kramer law office in Harrisburg at (717) 888-8888 toll-free to schedule a free, confidential case review by an experienced attorney. Your review will help determine whether you have a valid legal claim and what your future options might be. The initial consultation with an injury lawyer from our firm is absolutely FREE, so there is nothing at risk except justice for your family member—justice she isn’t able to seek on her own.