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07-12-06 Local medical director: Patient isolations can violate civil rights

By Shelley Grieshop

  WAPAKONETA -- The practice of keeping nursing home residents isolated for non-communicable diseases is unlawful and violates civil rights, says Auglaize County Medical Director Dr. Wilfred Ellis.

  During the regular meeting of the health board Tuesday morning, Ellis voiced his concern over the issue, saying he's received several complaints recently from family members of area nursing home residents who have, essentially, become "incarcerated" after contracting mild infections.

  Ellis did not reveal the name(s) of the nursing homes in question.

  The non-communicable diseases he spoke of are associated with bacteria such as methicillin-resistant S aureus (MRSA), which has become antibiotic-resistant and difficult to treat in recent years. MRSA, like other types of bacteria, are not reportable diseases and not serious enough to recommend isolation, Ellis says.

  "It's unreasonable not to allow them to leave their rooms, go outside or socialize," he says, adding two out of every dozen or so people in the U.S. carry the MRSA bacteria. "They are there to live, not to be incarcerated."  Ellis says legitimate patient isolations would have to be approved by the county board of health following a diagnosis of a communicable disease.

  If a disease is not one that is mandated by the state to be reported, it is illegal to isolate a resident, Ellis explains. Doing so, can constitute "abuse" as listed in state and federal nursing home regulations, he says.

  "This can become a constitutional issue and lead to civil action. These people are not under house arrest," he says.

  Ellis also stated that bacteria such as MRSA are "always out there, so where is your exit strategy?" He says there is no way to tell how long it might be before a resident tests negative again for the bacteria, leaving them isolated for perhaps long periods.

  The board approved Ellis' suggestion to send letters to area nursing homes, advising them to contact him to discuss the issue further. He hopes that all parties can work together to draft a policy that would help health care workers avoid unnecessary isolations.

  "We just cannot violate their constitutional rights like this," he adds.

  Ellis also suggested reminding health workers to step up infection control methods by frequently washing hands and wearing gowns and masks while around infected patients.


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