Tightening up on the stranglers--142 youths dead in one decade
By The Associated Press, March 25, 1999
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Spurred by deaths of mentally or emotionally disturbed teen-agers in physical restraints, congressional Democrats proposed sharply restricting when restraints can be used on the mentally ill.

``My son was not a bad boy,'' said Marsha Draheim, whose 14-year-old son, Mark, died in December after being restrained by three counselors at a residential treatment center in Orefield, Pa.

Draheim spoke at a Capitol news conference to highlight three bills that would outlaw the use of restraints on mental health patients except when necessary to ensure the safety of the patient or other patients.

``Physical restraints and seclusion are being used not only too much, but also inhumanely, brutally and sometimes fatally,'' said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., whose bill would cover all patients in the roughly 1,100 private and public mental health facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding.

Lieberman's bill, and separate bills by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Pete Stark, D-Calif., would require mental health facilities to report deaths.

Such reports would be available for possible investigation by the nation's protection and advocacy system, a network of mostly nonprofit agencies in the states that is federally mandated to provide legal representation and advocacy for the disabled.

None of the bills would provide additional funding for that system to conduct investigations, although lawmakers said it could be provided once initial standards for use of restraints, and reporting requirements, are in place.

``It's a very, very big concern,'' said Gary Gross, director of legal services for the National Association of Protection & Advocacy Systems Inc., which supports restrictions. ``Now, more people are turned away than we can serve.''

The proposals, which are backed by the Clinton administration but few Republicans, are modeled on existing federal restrictions on the use of physical restraints in nursing homes.

Physical restraints are ways to restrict a person's movement, such as by pinning them to the floor. They may also include the use of straitjackets, leather straps, shackles or other equipment.

Lawmakers said restraints are used too often on the mentally ill to punish them or change their behavior, or for the convenience of workers who may be poorly paid, overworked and badly trained.

They pointed to cases such as the March 1998 death of 11-year-old Andrew McClain while being restrained in a Portland, Conn., psychiatric hospital. A subsequent investigation by The Hartford Courant turned up 142 restraint-related deaths, many involving children, over a decade.

In Massachusetts last year, 16-year-old Mark Soares died after workers put him in a headlock at a home for troubled youths in Marlboro, where he was placed because of a history of committing verbal and physical assaults.

In Colorado, 17-year-old Casey Collier died of asphyxiation in 1993 after six hospital orderlies restrained him by sitting on his back, legs and shoulders, DeGette said.

Dodd's bill and the House version would require better training of mental health workers. They would subject facilities that don't comply with the new law to penalties, including loss of federal funding.

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