Nursing Home Law: Using Restraints on Nursing Home Patients

Nursing home law is very specific when it comes to using restraints on residents, and we review the law and the rights of the resident. A restraint in a nursing home does not necessarily mean having a patient restrained to a bed. A restraint is the use of an object or device that is not easily removable by the patient, such as a waist belt, hand mitts, lap trays or even siderails to the bed.

It is estimated that over 6% of nursing home patients are restrained in some manner. Nursing home laws mandate that a restraint must be medically necessary for a patient, but some nursing homes have been found to use them improperly. Restraints may be improperly used when a nursing home does not have adequate staffing, has poorly trained staff or because they fear liability from a patient’s fall.

But in reality, The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 states that a nursing home resident has the right to be free from physical or chemical restraints, such as heavy doses of medications, used for purposes of discipline or convenience and that are not required to treat the resident’s medical symptoms. Even with patients who have a tendency to fall or wander, there are alternatives that may be explored, such as:

  • Companionship and supervision by volunteers, family and friends;
  • Physical activity such as exercise, outdoor time and activities to keep a patient occupied;
  • Using alarms, proper lighting and individualized seating for patient safety;
  • Meeting all physical needs such as hunger, toileting, sleep and exercise according to individual routine rather than facility routine to avoid attempts by the patient to do these activities unsupervised;
  • Training staff to meet individualized needs;
  • Maintaining staffing levels high enough to meet residents’ needs, including the use of heavier staffing during peak periods of day.

There are very specific nursing home laws regarding the rights of residents, and if you feel a loved one is being denied these rights, speak with a nursing home attorney should they not be resolved after addressing concerns with the facility.