At least 50 New York hospital patients were improperly restrained between 2015 and 2018, including men and women handcuffed, hit with batons, drugged, and left strapped to beds up to 12 hours without regular check-ups and water, a USA TODAY Network New York investigation found. The newly reported details of restraint violations include hospital security officers who injured patients while handcuffing them to wheelchairs and beds. Some officers sprayed patients’ eyes with pepper gel and used pressure-point holds more typical of police tactics on the street. Some of the incidents lacked a licensed health provider’s order as required by law. Other cases involved hospital workers and security officers who lacked required training for safely using physical and mechanical restraint techniques on patients.
The true scope of restraint use, and misuse, in hospitals — including suspected racial disparities among patients subjected to it — remains shrouded in secrecy because incidents are not fully tracked by authorities. The only mandatory reporting of restraint use in hospitals involves cases connected to deaths, or cases in psychiatric units. That information lacks crucial details needed to determine how many patients are restrained and for how long. Thousands of patients are restrained in emergency rooms and other hospital wards across New York with limited independent oversight. The need to close that void in restraint-use transparency and accountability has become increasingly urgent as reports of violent clashes between patients and medical workers skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic.