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Physical Restraint Injuries

A California Elder Abuse Attorney Explains Common Physical Restraints Injuries in Nursing Homes 

Nursing homes provide around-the-clock care to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. While this includes everyday activities such as feeding, bathing, and administering medication, it also often requires nursing home staff to protect residents from injuring themselves. The use of physical restraints to achieve this objective is limited by law and controversial, and the misuse or overuse of physical restraints is an illegal form of nursing home abuse. Such illegal practices can result in physical injuries, which can diminish nursing home residents’ well-being and quality of life. If you suspect that someone you care about has suffered injuries due to the use of physical restraints in a nursing home, a California elder abuse attorney can help you take action.

Why Nursing Homes Use Physical Restraints

Nursing homes generally use physical restraints to keep residents from accidentally (or in some cases intentionally) injuring themselves or others. Many nursing home residents suffer from mobility issues that increase the likelihood of falls, so physical restraints may be used as a fall prevention measure. Some residents may suffer behavioral or cognitive issues that cause them to become agitated or even violent, putting themselves and others at risk. Physical restraints may also be used during medical treatment or diagnostic procedures that can cause physical pain, such as intravenous treatments or catheterization. Unfortunately, nursing home staff may also use physical restraints for more nefarious purposes, such as for their own convenience or to punish a resident.

Types of Physical Restraints Used in California Nursing Homes

Physical restraints are any method or device that is attached to the resident’s body or placed within their vicinity that restricts the resident’s freedom of movement or access to their body.

Some of the most common types of physical restraints used in nursing homes include:

  • Belts
  • Vests
  • Straps
  • Ties
  • Hand mitts
  • Specialized chairs
  • Bedrails
  • Lap cushions
  • Lap trays or tables
  • Wheelchair safety bars

Physical restraints do not necessarily need to take the form of specific physical devices. Other methods may be employed to physically restrain residents, such as tucking their sheets in extremely tightly, locking their wheelchair wheels in place, or disabling the lift function of their lift chairs. A California elder abuse attorney can help you if someone you care about has suffered injuries due to these methods of physical restraint.

Injuries That Can Be Caused by the Use of Physical Restraints

The use of physical restraints can cause injuries even under ideal circumstances, but especially if they are misused or overused. Some of those injuries include:

  • Bruising or bleeding
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Constipation or incontinence
  • Malnutrition and dehydration
  • Ulcers
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor circulation
  • Bedsores
  • Stiff joints
  • Infections
  • Reduced bone mass
  • Loss of strength and mobility

Aside from physical injuries, physical restraints can also cause fear, agitation, anxiety, and other psychological conditions that are often seen in cases of emotional abuse.

When, How, and Why Physical Restraints May Be Used Under California Law

Given the inherent loss of dignity and elevated risk of physical injury associated with physical restraints, their use is strictly circumscribed under California law. Generally, physical restraints may be used only on the written order of a licensed healthcare practitioner acting within the scope of his or her professional licensure, and the order must specify the duration and circumstances under which the restraints may be used. Orders must be specific to individual patients and there may be no standing orders.

Physical restraints may be used only for the following purposes:

  • Restraints for the protection of the patient during treatment and diagnostic procedures
  • Restraints used for emergencies that threaten immediate injury to the patient or others
  • Restraints for behavior control on the signed order of a licensed healthcare professional. The order must specify the behavior to be eliminated, the method to be used, and the time limit for the use of the method. The resident may be restrained only in an area that is under the supervision of staff.

Physical restraints may not be used:

  • As punishment
  • As a substitute for more effective care
  • For the convenience of nursing home staff

Only the following types of restraints may be used in California nursing homes:

  • Cloth vests
  • Soft ties
  • Soft cloth mittens
  • Seat belts
  • Trays with spring-release devices

Restraints with locking devices are strictly prohibited, as is involuntary seclusion, and all restraints must be used in such a way as to avoid physical injury to the patient and to ensure the least possible discomfort.

Any deviation from these regulations may constitute a violation of California law and lead to injuries; for more information, please contact a California elder abuse attorney.

Physical Restraints and Residents’ Rights

Misusing, overusing, or using a prohibited type of physical restraint in such a way that causes injury is also a violation of a resident’s rights under both federal and state law. Under 42 C.F.R. § 483.12, a federal statute, residents have the right to be free from abuse, neglect, misappropriation of property, and exploitation. This includes the right to be free of physical restraints imposed for the purposes of discipline or convenience or that are not medically necessary to treat the resident’s symptoms. Any restraints used must be the least restrictive alternative and must be used for the least amount of time necessary. And under Title 22, § 72528 of the California Code of Regulations, residents must give informed consent to accept or reject the use of physical restraints, psychotherapeutic drugs, or the prolonged use of a device that may lead to the inability to regain the use of normal bodily functions.

A California Elder Abuse Attorney Can Help You Put a Stop to the Misuse of Physical Restraints and Seek Compensation for Physical Restraint Injuries

The misuse or overuse of physical restraints in nursing homes is a form of nursing home abuse that can lead to severe and life-altering injuries. If you or someone you care about has suffered injuries due to the use of physical restraints in a nursing home, you may be able to pursue legal action. To get started, please contact a California elder abuse attorney at the Evans Law Firm, Inc., by using our online contact form or calling 415-441-8669 or toll-free at 1-888-50EVANS (888-503-8267).

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