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The Horror of Physical Restraints in Pennsylvania Nursing Homes

The use of physical restraints is one of the key indicators for nursing home neglect in Pennsylvania.

Most nursing homes are run as businesses for profit, but the fact is that they operate under very slim profit margins. Most residents’ bills are paid by Medicaid, and that program is certainly not known for its generosity. The management of an extended care facility is under pressure to cut expenses as much as possible, and that usually involves cutting payroll. The absolute minimum number of people will be hired. Jobs will go to the people with the lowest acceptable level of skills, because those people will be satisfied with lower salaries.

But how can an overworked, under-trained skeleton crew control a building full of independent adults—especially when many of them have failing vision or hearing, dementia, or other cognitive deficiencies? It’s overwhelming to try to meet the repetitive demands of the residents day after day.

In too many nursing homes, the caregivers quickly suffer “compassion burnout” and shift their goals from meeting residents’ needs to crowd control. They justify using physical restraints as a means to “keep Mrs. Meloni from hurting herself,” when the real reason is that the employees are just tired of tending to Mrs. Meloni.

Proper use of physical restraints in Pennsylvania nursing homes

There are legitimate reasons for some nursing home residents to be restrained from harming themselves, other occupants of the facility, or members of the staff. Bed rails can help patients from rolling out of bed. Residents may wear vests or belts that attach to their wheelchairs and prevent them from attempting to walk. Mitts can prevent people from pulling out IV tubes. These devices can be used when they are the least restrictive alternative that will keep the resident safe.

But under federal government rules adopted in the early 1990s, a nursing home resident “has the right to be free from any physical or chemical restraints imposed for purposes of discipline or convenience, and not required to treat the resident’s medical symptoms.” This rule was adopted after news reports of hideous abuses in nursing homes: strapping residents’ arms and legs to their beds, the use of geri-chairs to confine patients in an upright position for hours at a time, or simply using oversized pillows and tightly tucked bed sheets to hold a resident immobile.

Nursing homes should now only use restraints under the order of a doctor. But, in practice, many facilities restrain residents routinely, for four major reasons:

  • For the convenience of the staff
  • As a cheaper alternative to structured activities or therapy for the residents
  • To assert control over the nursing home population
  • To punish particular residents who are seen as disruptive or assertive

Nursing home residents already face considerable limits on their freedom because of their age and infirmity. Physical restraints bring this loss of liberty to a cruel and degrading level. Additionally, such practices increase the risks of bedsores or fall injuries, and often contribute to social isolation and the mental health problems that follow. Residents who are regularly restrained can rapidly lose their ability to care for themselves in basic ways.

Do not resign yourself to accepting abusive nursing home treatment

If you have a friend or family member in a nursing home in Dauphin County or any nearby community, you must not ignore signs of unjustified restraints at the facility. Contact a Harrisburg nursing home abuse attorney immediately to register your concern. When you call Schmidt Kramer at (717) 888-8888, we can answer your questions and give you advice on the best way to address your concerns. Call today, and we can get to work immediately to rescue your loved one from any degrading treatment.

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