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Is it illegal if a front-line direct care worker in a psychiatric hospital denies patients' requests for food and/or snacks?

Philadelphia, PA |

In between meals and on the overnight hours is it illegal to deny patients' requests for hydration & nutrition in locked psychiatric units where patients are generally involuntarily committed against their will?

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Attorney answers 3


Not necessarily.

The obligations to confined patients will depend on the facts and circumstances.

Psychiatric confinement or lock-down is not akin to hotel room service on demand, but there are constitutional implications if patients are denied necessary food and drink. In most circumstances, licensed facilities have standard protocols for distribution of food and drink that meet constitutionally measures.

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Thank you for your response. Yes, all licensed facilities have standard protocols for distribution of food and drink and the particular facility that I am referring to has indicated that allowing for a drink and a snack (or even a few snacks) is a basic customer service standard and denial is not the policy (unless a restriction has been placed upon a patient by their physician that limits fluid or food) . It is important to note that it is 15 hours between dinner and breakfast meal services. 2 hours after dinner a small snack is provided for adults in the form a small bag of pretzels or popcorn that is app. less than 2 ounces. And frequently the kitchen will not send any snacks? The snacks that are in the pantry which is located on each unit is generally small bowls of cereal that are 0.75 ounces per box (which is about 3 spoonsfuls for an adult to consume). That is hardly "hotel room service on demand" or a pack of saltines that are mostly crumbled after transportation. So, yes, standard protocols exist, however, those protocols are not practiced by the majority of care givers when management is not present. What are the Constitutional measures you are referring to?


A request is one thing. A medical need is another.

The above is not intended as legal advice. The response does not constitute the creation of an attorney client relationship as this forum does not provide for a confidential communication.



Mr. Hudson thank you for your answer But could you clarify...If the request is medically necesarry & denied then it is illegal? Otherwise a request due to hunger or a request for water due to thirst is not illegal? But it would constitute neglect, correct?



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