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Physical Restraints in Nursing Homes

It is an unfortunate truth of the nursing home industry that families must maintain constant vigilance to ensure their loved ones are receiving decent care. Neglectful and even malicious treatment can arise in both “good” and “bad” nursing homes, and even better nursing homes often have standard procedures that violate U.S. law to the detriment of their residents.

An important red flag to keep an eye out for is the use of physical restraints. According to Justice in Aging’s 25 Common Nursing Home Problems & How to Resolve Them, the most common physical restraint is a vest which ties residents into wheelchairs or beds. However, seat belts, bed rails, and chairs angled to prevent residents from standing up have also been frequently employed in nursing homes.

Federal law mandates that physical restraints can only be used to treat very specific medical conditions or symptoms, but it’s all too common for nursing homes to tie down residents to prevent them from wandering. It’s important to know that physical restraints require consent from either the resident or their representative. Nursing homes or their medical staff do not have the authority to restrain someone without permission. Additionally, they are obligated to make alternatives available.

Restraints can never be used for punishment or a nursing home’s convenience. A vast medical consensus indicates that restraints are harmful to residents. Far from ensuring a resident’s safety, they may actually cause residents to become more at risk of falls and injuries. Worse, some residents have been known to die of asphyxiation after becoming tangled in their restraints. A resident’s frustrated attempts to escape can easily become more dangerous than them having no restraints at all. This is to say nothing of the psychological toll of restraints either.

If a nursing home recommends restraints to prevent your loved one from wandering, you should say no if it is clear restraints would be imposed for the nursing home’s convenience. It’s incumbent upon the nursing home to increase staffing levels, install monitoring systems, or offer mentally stimulating activities to mitigate wandering, rather than punish your loved one. If a doctor proposes restraints to treat medical symptoms, it is important to discuss care plans and examine alternatives to ensure this is a solution with more benefits than risks.

Should a nursing home put restraints on your loved one without consent, you have the right to demand their immediate removal. Imposing restraints without permission is illegal and constitutes false imprisonment and battery. Lasting harm as a result of physical restraints may be cause to seek legal action.

Nursing Home Ratings – is 5 Star Really 5 Star?

For the millions of families in America faced with the tough time of placing their loved ones in a nursing home, Medicare’s online quality ratings are meant to help them make the right choice. Since 2008, Medicare has published quality ratings for every nursing home in its network according to a five-star system. A nursing home awarded five stars is meant to be a top tier facility, but for many homes that rating doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

A 2019 study by Amanda Sharkey and Amandine Ody-Brasier found little correlation between a nursing home’s ratings and its actual health outcomes. Worse, the findings of their study concluded that nursing homes are likely gaming the Medicare rating system, utilizing dishonest tactics to inflate their scores.

The amount of stars a nursing home is awarded is determined by three sub-ratings: patient outcomes, results from onsite inspections, and staffing levels. Critically, the patient outcome and staffing level sub-ratings are based on the nursing home’s self-reported numbers and payroll information, meaning they can adjust their own scores to receive more stars. It’s a method that relies far too much on the honor system – if a nursing home overstates its staffing levels or does not disclose negative patient outcomes, it can receive a five-star rating it does not deserve. This means countless families are deceived into believing their loved ones will be properly cared for at a well-staffed facility.

Sharkey and Ody-Brasier were first alerted to this tactic when studying a change in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service’s parameters for maintaining each star rating. In 2012, the staff number requirements were raised for every star rating, meaning many nursing homes had to hire new nurses if they wished to maintain their previous rating. Sharkey and Brasier expected to find data indicating that an increase in nursing hours for each patient leads to better health outcomes. This wasn’t an unreasonable hypothesis, considering it’s backed up by countless studies and nursing experts, in addition to being general common sense.

Instead, they found that nursing homes which reported staff increases failed to see a correlated increase in quality of care. The rate of bedsores, for example, did not decrease even though they are extremely preventable with a sufficient amount of care. This is a strong indicator that nursing homes are cheating the system by reporting staff numbers that just aren’t consistent with the reality on the ground.

Families seeking a clean and attentive nursing home for their loved one should regard the Medicare ratings with caution. Poor quality nursing homes can often be fatal for the elderly residents that wind up in them, as well as deeply traumatic for the surviving families. The safest course of action is to visit nursing homes personally, assessing the overall cleanliness and speaking to current residents and staff. Don’t be deceived by facilities that would rather cheat the ratings than make your loved one’s health a priority.

Amid Covid-19, Nursing Home Deaths Due To Neglect Skyrocket in the Shadows

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on society, and that impact has hit the elderly the hardest. Though the virus is spreading like wildfire through nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, reporting from The Associated Press demonstrates that deaths from COVID are only a shadow of the dangers posed to elderly loved ones in this troubled time.

Chronic understaffing at nursing homes had been a problem long before the COVID-19 pandemic, one serious enough that it was a common cause of elder abuse in said facilities. COVID-19 exacerbated this understaffing issue to previously unseen levels, as nurses already in stressful, low pay positions prior to the pandemic have been overworked from colleagues testing positive or calling in sick. Federal data indicates that in states where virus cases are surging, almost a quarter of nursing homes are reporting staff shortages.

This has had deep consequences on the level of care afforded to our elderly population. When long-term care facilities were initially sealed off in March, inspectors and advocates were locked out as well, even as disturbing reports leaked about major medical declines in nursing home residents. As families have gradually been permitted to visit their loved ones once again, they’ve often been horrified at what they see.

Grandmothers kept in soiled diapers so long their skin peeled off, grandfathers with tunneling black bedsores, and reunions that became funerals as loved ones perished from dehydration or starvation – this is the toll of the neglect that has become far too common in the wake of the pandemic. As more than 90,000 Americans in long-term care facilities have died to COVID-19, elder advocates report that deaths from neglect have also spiked and could total more than 40,000.

An expert who analyzed data from the nation’s nursing homes on behalf of The Associated Press estimates for every two COVID-19 deaths in long term care facilities, there is a premature death resulting from physical neglect or “failure to thrive.” The latter is the term listed on some death certificates for instances where doctors believe the deaths resulted from the despair of prolonged isolation.

Considering the scale of the dangers posed to nursing home residents in these times, it is vital to safely be there for your loved ones if they live in such a facility. To better understand what indicators to be on the alert for in order to keep them safe, please refer to the post, “COVID-19: What to Look for When Visiting Long-Term Care Facilities.”

COVID-19: What to Look for When Visiting Long-Term Care Facilities

COVID-19 has necessitated lifestyles changes from all of us, but many don’t fully realize the deep impact it has left on the elderly. Economic insecurity has broadened, depression-inducing levels of isolation have become typical, and some long-term care facilities have adopted harmful practices to handle the additional burdens COVID-19 has introduced to their staff.

With a vaccine still months away from achieving widespread inoculation, the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care and AARP Foundation have released a guide on things to keep in mind as you visit loved ones in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

One of the first things Consumer Voice recommends doing when reuniting with a loved one living at a long-term care facility is to note both their mental and physical states. Have they gained or lost weight? Is their skin healthy, with no pressure sores or bruises? Is their energy level and alertness what it should be, or do they appear confused? Be on the alert for signs of harmful medication changes.

Observing the state of the facility is also crucial to ensuring your loved one is getting the care they need. Are facility areas such as the bedrooms, bathrooms, and common rooms clean? Are the residents and staff wearing masks? Does there seem to be a sufficient number of staff in the building – with the number of nurses and certified nursing assistants on shift posted as required? A ‘No’ to any of these questions suggest problems that could put your loved one at risk.

You don’t need to rely solely on your own observations, however. It’s worth asking questions directly to your loved one to ensure they’re satisfied and truly receiving the care they need.

If concerns or issues arise during your visit, it is of the utmost importance that you act on what you know. Talk to the nurse on duty about your concerns, request a care plan meeting, ask the director of nursing or the administrator what will be done to address issues, and possibly file a complaint with your state survey agency. There are a multitude of options available to you, but keep in mind that just because you’ve expressed your concerns doesn’t mean the facility will take action on them. To truly be certain your loved one is safe, it is vital to follow up and act as an advocate until you’re certain the matter is resolved.

COVID-19 has brought much uncertainty into the world, but knowledge and foresight can help keep those you care about safe until the pandemic is behind us.

Photo credit: dpa/picture alliance via Getty