Stun guns as a means of controlling violent patients

Police officers in many jurisdictions use stun guns to incapacitate suspects, but the weapons have started to show up in hospital settings as well, a migration that has raised some concerns.

Stun guns as a means of controlling violent patients.On July 8, a security guard used a stun gun on the 25-year-old nephew of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas after he allegedly became combative when trying to leave a Marrero, La., hospital against doctors’ orders, according to the nephew’s relatives. Derek Thomas’s family said he was subdued with a stun gun. The hospital has cited patient privacy laws in declining to comment.

There are 151 hospitals in the United States that use or are testing Taser brand electronic control devices, according to a company spokesperson.

Each hospital develops its own stun-gun guidelines, but a company spokesperson said, “Hospital security officers on scene are best able . . . to determine the proper response.”

“When used properly,” the spokesperson wrote in an e-mail, “Taser technology is among the most effective responses to resistance interventions available to law enforcement officers to halt violent situations that pose a safety risk to an officer, suspect or innocent citizens.”

According to Robert Philibert, a professor of psychiatry, genetics and neurosciences at the University of Iowa who has written about the use of Tasers and similar weapons in psychiatric care, stun guns are becoming more common in hospitals as a means of controlling violent patients. “If dialogue fails, then generally a show of force is explored,” he said. “Physical restraint is a last choice.”

He added that the use of stun guns in patient units is “extraordinarily troubling” and that “in the hospital setting they should only be used with the most utter discretion — only in the context in which serious threat to life or bodily integrity is in play.”

According to Jeffrey Ho, an emergency room doctor and the author of a 2009 paper about the use of Tasers in health-care settings, stun guns do control violent patients and can prevent dangerous situations from escalating and causing injury to the patients and others. He based his findings on a year-long study of the University of Minnesota hospital where he works. “The hospital environment is not 100 percent calm and peaceful all the time,” he said. “Acts of violence do occur against staff, physicians, nurses, those types of things, and really the best method of security is to be proactive.” source

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