By Jessica J. Burchard
May 24, 2007
A new culture has emerged at the Grafton Schools Inc. over the past five years. Grafton implemented a policy in 2004 to significantly reduce the use of physical restraints with its clients.
“We had a very systematic way of doing it,” said Kim Sanders, executive director of Grafton’s Winchester region. “People were very skeptical in the beginning, but it’s worked out well.”
The success of the policy is evident in reduction of reports of physical restraints. In November 2003, the Winchester region had 260 incidents of restraints.
This April, one incident of a restratin was reported for the region. All incidents of physical restraints are three minutes or less. “There’s always going to be that rare occasion when physical restraint is necessary to avoid any clear and present danger,” Chief Executive Officer James G. Gaynor said.
Reducing the use of physical restraints has proved a challenge for the schools. The school is a private nonprofit organization serving youths and adults with emotional disturbances, learning disabilities, mental retardation, autism, and severe behavioral disorders. The youngest client is 11 and the oldest is 65.
Because Grafton’s clients can become violent without provocation, Sanders was concerned about limiting the use of physical restraints as a way to deal with disorderly patients.
“You have to be very careful because you’re taking away a protective device,” Sanders said. “We had to make sure we gave them other tools such as blocking shields and [big] sponges.”
The shields are used in Grafton’ s “extraordinary blocking” technique — which allows a staff member to use a hand-held cushion to avoid being harmed or frightening a client who has become violent. The large sponges are used to act as a cushion between clients and hard objects such as table tops and walls.
With 23 group homes across Virginia, Grafton has trained more than 800 employees to use techniques besides physical restraint.
“To pull something like this off demanded a multi-layer approach,” Gaynor said. “It also looked at a more holistic approach to the treatment of the whole [client].”
Although Grafton has budgeted funds for the equipment and training, Gaynor believes the program is saving the schools money.
“We pretty much said, ‘Whatever it takes.’ We saw this as an investment,” he said. Gaynor declined to specify how much money was spent on the program and the training. “We knew every dollar we put into this we would get back in spades,” added Gaynor.
Some of the savings comes from a decrease of hundreds of thousands of dollars in workman’s compensation claims.
Despite its current success, Grafton is being sued for its earlier use of physical restraints. The school is in the middle of a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from an incident of physical restraint. The family of Garrett Halsey, 13, who died at Grafton on Dec. 23, 2004, filed a complaint in the Winchester Circuit Court Office in December accusing Grafton of negligence. The complaint was amended in March and the case is ongoing.