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Restraint Injuries

The use of either physical or chemical restraints has long been an issue in nursing homes. There sometimes are legitimate uses for restraints, but inappropriate use was so widespread that Congress took action in 1987 to outlaw the use of restraints unless medically necessary. There has been a reduction in the unnecessary use of restraints over the past couple of decades, but inappropriate use remains an issue and a danger for nursing home residents — particularly the use of chemical restraints such as mood-stabilizing drugs or sedatives.

When restraints are used to control a nursing home resident’s behavior or for the convenience of the nursing home staff, rather than for a medical purpose, the law both federally and in Illinois considers that a form of abuse. Facilities where restraints are used without an appropriate medical reason, such as preventing a resident from harming himself or others, may face action against their license from the state Department of Public Health. However, the resident or an authorized representative also may be able to pursue a claim for compensation of any injuries or other damages the resident suffered.

The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, 210 ILCS 45/2-106, allows nursing home residents or people authorized to act on their behalf to sue the owner or licensee of a nursing home where the resident experiences abuse or neglect. The resident may be able to receive compensation for any actual costs caused by the abuse or neglect, including the costs of treating injuries, lost income, pain and suffering, disability and disfigurement, loss of normal life, and attorney fees.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of the improper use of restraints in a nursing home, an experienced nursing home lawyer can help you explore your options for preventing further abuse and for seeking compensation for injuries caused by the use of restraints.

What are Restraints?

The law in Illinois addresses the inappropriate use of two types of restraints in nursing homes: physical and chemical. The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act prohibits use of either physical or chemical restraints for the purposes of punishment or convenience, and mandates that use of restraints must ordered by a physician who documents the need for restraints in the resident’s medical records. For example, if a nursing home uses restraints because there isn’t enough staff to adequately monitor residents, that may be a violation of the act.

A physical restraint is essentially anything used to physically hold a person down or restrict movement. The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act describes a physical restraint as any manual method or device that is attached or adjacent to a nursing home resident’s body that the resident can’t easily remove and that restricts the resident’s freedom of movement or access to his or her body.

A physical restraint could include:

  • Straps or ties that are used to hold a person down
  • Restrictive vests or other clothing that limits movement
  • Chairs with bars that don’t allow a person to get up
  • Brakes on wheelchairs to prevent movement
  • Tucking a person’s sheets so tightly around them that they can’t move

Under Illinois law, devices such as bed rails, gait belts, or cushions are generally not considered restraints.

A chemical restraint is a drug used for the purposes of immobilizing or sedating a nursing home resident when there’s no medical need. That may include administering sedatives, anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, or other mood-stabilizing drugs.

Residents’ Rights Regarding Restraints

Part of the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act lays out the rights that nursing home residents have with regard to the use of restrain, and the rules nursing homes must follow when using restraints. Those include:

  • Restraints can only be used with the informed consent of the resident, the resident’s guardian, or another authorized representative.
  • Restraints can only be used for specific periods, and must be the least restrictive means necessary for the resident’s physical or mental health.
  • Restraints may be used only after consultation with appropriate health professionals and after less restrictive methods have been tried.
  • In an emergency, restraints may be used for brief periods to save a resident’s life unless the resident previously refused such a treatment.
  • The person using the restraint must be trained in the use of that specific type of restraint.
  • The resident has a right to have a person or organization of his or her choosing notified that a restraint is being used. The nursing home must notify the resident of that right, and if the resident chooses to notify someone about the use of a restraint, the nursing home has to do that within 24 hours.
  • A resident who communicates primarily through sign language has the right to have his or her hands free for brief periods each hour unless that would result in harm to the resident or others.

Signs and Risks of Improper Use of Restraints

Nursing home residents who are elderly or who have disabilities may be more vulnerable than the average person to injuries as a result of the improper use of restraints. Among the injuries or health complications that nursing home residents may suffer from the improper use of restraints are:

  • Bruises
  • Cuts
  • Bedsores
  • Fractured bones
  • Infections
  • Muscle deterioration
  • Incontinence
  • Respiratory issues

Seniors or people with disabilities who are the subject of unnecessary restraint also may develop mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.

For families or advocates, signs that a nursing home resident has been the victim of improper use of restraints include:

  • Bruises on their wrists, ankles, arms, legs, or chest
  • The presence of straps, ties, or other physical restraint devices in the room
  • Lethargy, grogginess, confusion, or an inability to focus can indicate the use of chemical restraints

If your loved one has been hurt due to someone’s negligence in a nursing home or assisted care environment, contact our Chicago injury attorneys today for a free consultation at (312) 236-2900. You may be eligible for monetary and non-monetary damages.