From time to time an EMS professional will encounter a belligerent or physically aggressive patient. Whatever the cause of the patient’s aggression—mental health challenges, alcohol or other substance abuse, or some other issue—for EMS the challenge will be to resolve the situation in a way that is safe for everyone involved and gets the patient the care he or she needs. Here are some things to keep in mind when making the decision to use force to restrain a patient.
A patient’s aggressive behavior may be a sign of a serious medical condition.
The first thing to bear in mind about someone who is behaving erratically or violently is that he or she may be experiencing a serious medical event that requires immediate intervention. A diabetic may become delirious due to low blood sugar levels, or a drug user may be experiencing symptoms of overdose or withdrawal. Such conditions aren’t always easy to identify in the field and can only be diagnosed properly once the patient is at the hospital. Using force to restrain a patient may be necessary to save his or her life.
In legal terms, a patient can be deemed to give implied consent to treatment in emergency or life-threatening situations. Unfortunately, some situations will be clearer than others. A patient who is clearly delirious and unaware of what’s happening probably would want to be helped if in his or her right mind. But a slightly drunk patient who was just dumped by his girlfriend may simply be angry and may still have the legal capacity to refuse treatment.
Restrain with care.
Any time a person is restrained there is a risk of injury. In every event, it is best to begin with verbal engagement and only move on to physical methods if talking just isn’t going to work. There are a number of principles to bear in mind when using physical restraints. An EMS professional should never attempt to physically restrain a patient without police present. And care must be taken to ensure that restraints do not impede the patient’s circulation or breathing. Some EMS professionals have faced the threat of criminal charges after restraints suffocated their patients.
Report physical encounters.
EMS professionals who find themselves in physical altercations with patients need to protect themselves against civil and even criminal liability. Reporting the event to supervisors and, if applicable, a union legal representative, is an essential step to take as soon as possible after the event. Gathering facts while memory is fresh is important. This is especially the case if the patient suffered serious injury or death. In many cases it’s a good idea to talk to an attorney who is outside the employer/union relationship.
GGRM can answer your questions
For over 45 years the attorneys at Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have represented clients in the Las Vegas first responder community. If you have been in a situation that required force against an unwilling patient and you would like to discuss your legal risks and options, we are here to answer your questions. Call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476, or reach us through our contact page.