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IL nursing home abuse attorneyThe term restraints are used to refer to physical or chemical means of controlling a nursing home resident’s behavior or restricting his or her movement. While physical restraints involve things like bed rails and ties, chemical restraints are medications used to sedate a resident. Federal and state laws heavily regulate the use of restraints against nursing home residents. Restraints can only be used in specific situations and should never be used simply for nursing home staff convenience. Overuse and improper use of chemical restraints can lead to dangerous, often fatal, side effects as well as a diminished quality of life.

Sedatives and Other Chemical Restraints Can Only Be Used When Medically Necessary

Psychopharmacological drugs such as benzodiazepines and antipsychotic medication are intended to treat psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders. These medications often have side effects including drowsiness and sluggishness. Sometimes, nursing home staff administer these medications to nursing home residents to make them more docile and less likely to wander around the facility or defy staff instructions. Not only is this practice unethical, it is also illegal. The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act specifically states that chemical and physical restraints may not be used to punish a resident or for the nursing home staff’s convenience. According to the law, restraints may only be used when ordered by a doctor for a legitimate medical purpose.

Antipsychotic Medication Doubles The Risk of Death in Residents with Dementia

Aripiprazole, haloperidol, clozapine, quetiapine, risperidone, olanzapine, and other antipsychotic medications are frequently used “off label” to sedate residents who do not have the medical conditions that the drugs are designed to treat. Research has shown that this is a very dangerous practice. Dr. David Graham, Associate Director of the FDA’s Office of Drug Safety, has stated that antipsychotic medication actually doubles the risk of mortality in elderly people with dementia. These medications carry side effects including an increased risk of falling, dyskinesia, blood clots, stroke, and irreversible cognitive decompensation. Antipsychotic drugs even have a “black box” warning cautioning against administering the medication to elderly people with dementia.

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Illinois nursing home attorneysThose who work in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are tasked with keeping residents safe and comfortable. When a family makes the difficult decision to place a loved one in such a facility, they do so under the assumption that the home’s staff will provide appropriate medical care while looking after their loved one’s needs. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

In many nursing homes, staffing levels are alarmingly low, and training is often inadequate. These issues lead to serious problems, including the improper use of medication as chemical restraints.

A Scary Report

Last year, the watchdog group Human Rights Watch released a report that examined the prescribing of medications to nursing home residents. The report estimated that each week, approximately 179,000 residents of nursing homes are given antipsychotic medications despite not having conditions for which the drugs are approved. Antipsychotics, including olanzapine, aripiprazole, and quetiapine, are intended to manage psychosis in patients who suffer from hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, or severe disassociation from reality. In most cases, such patients have been diagnosed with conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

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Chicago nursing home abuse attorneysMost people would agree that nursing home staff have a challenging job. While many nursing home residents are kind, cooperative, and simply want to live their lives as comfortably as possible, sometimes physical and mental health issues cause nursing home residents to act obstinately or aggressively. In some cases, a resident may require sedation through the use of chemical restraints. However, restraining a resident through the use of medication should always be a last resort and should only be used when the resident is a danger to himself, herself, or others.

Sedating Residents with Medication is Regulated By Law

Nursing home staff should never use psychiatric medication to sedate a resident unless the situation absolutely requires it. Sadly, studies show that many nursing home employees are over-administering sedating medication to residents simply for their own convenience. Even worse, some nursing home staff have been caught using restraints as a form of punishment. Not only is this practice immoral, it is also in direct violation of several laws including the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act.

The Nursing Home Care Act clearly states that “Neither restraints nor confinements shall be employed for the purpose of punishment or for the convenience of any facility personnel.” Furthermore, physical and chemical restrains must only be used when ordered by a physician and the need for restraints must be documented in the resident’s clinical record.

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Illinois nursing home abuse attorneysNursing home residents live in a nursing home because they are unable to live on their own. This could be due to physical disabilities, mental incapacitation, or most often, both. Sometimes these issues make it necessary to restrain a resident in order to limit his or her movement in some way. For example, side rails on a bed may be used to help a resident who is prone to rolling out of bed avoid injury. Restraints can be either physical or chemical, and should only be used when doing so is absolutely necessary to prevent harm to the resident. Restraints that are used as a punishment or for the convenience of nursing home staff are unacceptable and not in compliance with Illinois law.

The Nursing Home Care Act Outlines Residents’ Rights

The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act is a law that protects the rights of nursing home residents and dictates the type of care that nursing home staff must provide for residents. According to the law, nursing home residents have the right to:

  • Be free from neglect and abuse at the hands of nursing home staff;
  • Practice their chosen religion;
  • Keep personal items and clothing in their room;
  • Receive medical treatment from a doctor of their choosing;
  • Receive visits, phone calls, and other correspondence from loved ones;
  • Refuse unwanted medical treatment; and
  • Be free from unreasonable restraint.

These are only a few of the rights protected by the Nursing Home Care Act. The full text of the act can be found in Section 210 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes.

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Illnois nursing home abuse attorneysLong-term care facilities like nursing homes are generally populated with older individuals and people with disabilities. Some residents have physical disabilities and decreased motor function while others are afflicted by mental disability or illness. Many residents suffer from both mental and physical limitations, making them especially vulnerable to illness or injury. Understandably, nursing home staff occasionally have to restrain nursing home residents in order to protect the resident from himself or herself. Things like bed rails or lap cushions can be used to ethically restrict a resident’s movement. Chemical restraints like sedatives may become necessary in extreme circumstances. Unfortunately, a new study shows that many nursing homes are dramatically over-using chemical restraints for nursing home residents with dementia.

Major Report Shows Extent of Chemical Restraint Abuse

The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care recently presented its annual Public Service Award in recognition of the Human Rights Watch’s 2018 report “‘They Want Docile’: How Nursing Homes in the United States Overmedicate People with Dementia.” This report includes extensive data collected from over one hundred nursing homes regarding the misuse of antipsychotic medication like Risperdal, Seroquel, and Zyprexa in nursing homes. Medications such as these are designed to treat major mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. However, these medications are being prescribed to elderly residents who do not have one of these disorders as a means of sedating them. Even worse, these antipsychotic medications have been found to nearly double the risk of death in elderly patients.

The report estimates that a staggering 179,000 nursing home residents are chemically-restrained with unnecessary antipsychotic drugs each week in the United States. Residents who were given antipsychotic drugs described the effects as “powerful.” One woman explained that the pills made her sleep all day while another said they made her a “zombie” with “no personality.” Experts say that the overuse of antipsychotic drugs can have devastating consequences to elderly individuals’ health and quality of life.

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