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Can nursing homes use chemical restraints to control residents?

On Behalf of | Oct 20, 2023 | Nursing Home Negligence

People working at nursing homes often have more responsibilities than time during their shifts to fulfill them. The stress and demands of working in a nursing home can sometimes lead to employees engaging in very unsafe or questionable conduct. For example, workers may seek to avoid interacting with a patient known to be difficult. Whether someone is often combative with staff because of their personality or they struggle with dementia, employees at a nursing home may cringe when they see someone’s light go on or hear noises coming from their room.

One of the ways nursing homes could theoretically diminish the demands of individual residents involves the utilization of chemical restraints, as sedatives and similar medications can prevent someone from acting out against themselves or others. While nursing staff may not prescribe such medications, it is often a rubber stamp with physicians to approve medications recommended by the nursing staff, who will often describe the need for such medications as being related to patient “anxiety” and/or “comfort.”

Is it legal for a nursing home to use chemical restraints to control a resident’s behavior?

Theoretically, there are strict limits on the use of chemical restraints

Most people living in a nursing home are already medically vulnerable. Many of them take a variety of prescriptions for issues including diabetes and high blood pressure. The more medication someone takes, the more likely they are to eventually have an adverse reaction to those prescribed drugs. It is therefore generally in the best interests of vulnerable patients to minimize the number of drugs they take and the dose of those drugs. Unfortunately, some nursing homes and the people working at them might put personal convenience above individual patient safety.

There are clearly defined best practices limiting the use of chemical restraints in nursing homes. It is illegal and abusive for nursing homes to utilize chemical restraints as a punishment for patient conduct or for the convenience of staff members. Chemical restraints are generally only an option when they are medically necessary for the safety of an individual resident or others near them.

Someone who has become violent and combative may receive chemical restraints as a means of defusing a dangerous situation. However, sedating someone just because they argue with staff members or because they complain frequently would not be appropriate. Such actions can endanger someone’s long-term health and also damage the relationship based on trust and respect that staff members at nursing homes should cultivate with residents.

Nursing homes should have sufficient, and sufficiently trained staff to work through a patients’s needs.

When family members learn about inappropriate use of chemical restraints on a loved one that lead to injury or worse, pursuing a nursing home abuse or negligence claim after such inappropriate use of chemical restraints can be an appropriate response. Such cases are not only a family recourse but create accountability for the nursing home and help to enforce the standard of care for treating our elders.


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