Senate committee approves bill restricting child restraints
By LISA FALKENBERG
Associated Press Writer
Friday, April 4, 2003
AUSTIN (AP) - Salvador Sanchez, an uncle who had grown to be a father to his troubled, suicidal teenage niece, was counting down the days until she would come home from the hospital, hoping she would soon be free of the depression that sent her there.
Two weeks before her expected release last October, the family received a call that 14-year-old Maria Mendoza had died at the Krause Children's Residential Treatment Center in Katy. Hospital officials at first called it an accident, but Sanchez said autopsy results showed the girl died from mechanical asphyxiation while being physically restrained.
"She was healthy in the morning and in the afternoon this happened," said Sanchez, a 54-year-old appliance technician. "You're thinking this facility is trying to help your child and at the same time she died there."
Sanchez was one of a sad stream of family members on Thursday armed with photos and powerful stories who testified before a Senate panel, urging passage of a bill to restrict the use of physical restraints in psychiatric hospitals and other facilities.
The Health and Human Services committee unanimously approved sending the bill by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on to the full Senate.
"It was something that should have been done a long time ago," Sanchez said after the vote. "If this would have been passed prior, our Maria would still be here. I know we can't bring her back, but we can help keep someone else from being hurt."
But Sanchez and others said they were disappointed that the bill the committee approved lacked criminal penalties for hospitals or employees involved in restraint deaths.
"It would have been nice if there were some penalties," said Charles Moody, whose 17-year-old son, Chase, died in October at a Mason County wilderness camp after being restrained by three camp counselors. "Right now, it's up to the individual discretion of district attorneys."
Jerry Boswell, president of Citizens Commission on Human Rights of Texas, a mental health watchdog group, said such penalties are the only way to deal with "the gravity of the harm that's been done."
"It needs to be very clear cut that a deadly restraint needs to be criminally prosecuted just like a parent would be," he said.
Still, Boswell said the bill is a good start.
"The passage of this legislation could well be a life and death matter," he said. "Again and again we have seen children killed or injured in restraint, yet the state has not aggressively cracked down on facility licenses, and has rarely prosecuted anyone involved in the restraints.
The bill bans treatment facilities from using restraints that block a resident's airway, impair breathing by putting pressure on the torso and interfere with the resident's ability to communicate.
It also orders the Health and Human Services commissioner to establish a work group to recommend best practices in policy, training, safety and risk management for facilities. The group is also ordered to conduct a study that develops a comprehensive reporting system to collect and analyze data related to the use of behavioral and physical restraints.
Boswell said this provision will make it easier to track and target problem institutions.
A similar bill passed the Senate last session, but was never scheduled for debate in the full House, Zaffirini said.