King/Drew Medical Center Limits Use of Tasers on Patients; Remains Eligible for Federal Funding
CMS inspectors on Wednesday said that Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center will remain eligible for federal funding because the hospital had "agreed to limit the use of police officers and Taser stun guns to subdue psychiatric patients," the Los Angeles Times reports (Weber/Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 6/24). Earlier this month, CMS officials told King/Drew that it would lose federal funding if it did not develop within 23 days new policies to subdue aggressive psychiatric patients that reduce the use of Tasers. State inspectors two years ago cited King/Drew for allowing county police to use Tasers to subdue such psychiatric patients without instituting formal guidelines for their use. King/Drew officials prohibited the use of Tasers following that citation, but Los Angeles County officials in March 2003 reversed that ban after finding that Tasers could be a useful tool but that police needed additional training. Steven Chickering, a manager for the San Francisco CMS office, said that although the use of Tasers in hospital settings is uncommon, eight patients have been shocked with them at King/Drew since March 2003, and some have been injured as a result. Most hospitals use specially trained medical personnel to calm aggressive psychiatric patients or subdue them with medication or minimal force rather than using Tasers, which fire two darts connected to electrical wires up to 21 feet and deliver as much as 50,000 volts of electricity over five seconds to immobilize a person and cause him or her to fall down.
In response to the criticism, Los Angeles County Department of Health Services officials immediately instructed police at King/Drew not to use force to restrain patients unless they were being arrested (California Healthline, 6/7). A plan of corrections submitted to CMS by King/Drew said that hospital administrators intend develop a behavioral management response team, which will be responsible for dealing with aggressive patients without using force. Under the plan, county public safety officers will use the Tasers only when "acting purely in a law enforcement capacity." County DHS will institute similar plans at other county public hospitals, which also have relied on police to subdue patients, the Times reports. County DHS Director Thomas Garthwaite said that his agency had not worked out the specific details of implementing the new policies, but he added that he was encouraged CMS had rescinded its threat to revoke King/Drew's eligibility for federal funding, the Times reports. He said, "This is a significant step in the right direction." Medicare and Medicaid funding account for more than half of King/Drew's $350 million annual budget (Los Angeles Times, 6/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.