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Inquiry Into Bed Rails Following Dozens of Deaths and Thousands of Injuries to Older Adults


Posted by Brendan Faulkner of D'Amico & Pettinicchi, LLC on Nov 26, 2012 in Product Liability

Bed rails are the metal bars used on hospital beds and in nursing homes to prevent people from rolling out of bed and to assist patients in pulling themselves up. 

These devices can cause serious injuries or even death however, when patients become trapped between a bed rail and a mattress.  These are preventable injuries that occur more frequently in patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

An article in today's New York Times reports that the Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating deaths and injuries resulting from bed rails. 

According to the article, "[d]ata compiled by the consumer agency from death certificates and hospital emergency room visits from 2003 through May 2012 shows that 150 mostly older adults died after they became trapped in bed rails. Over nearly the same time period, 36,000 mostly older adults - about 4,000 a year - were treated in emergency rooms with bed rail injuries. Officials at the F.D.A. and the commission said the data probably understated the problem since bed rails are not always listed as a cause of death by nursing homes and coroners, or as a cause of injury by emergency room doctors."

Dr. Steven Miles, a professor at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota quoted in the NY Times article, first alerted federal regulators to deaths involving bed rails in 1995, which resulted in a safety alert to nursing homes and home health care agencies.

At that time, the FDA recommended inspection of all hospital bed frames, bed side rails, and mattresses as part of a regular maintenance program to identify areas of possible entrapment. "Regardless of mattress width, length, and/or depth, alignment of the bed frame, bed side rail, and mattress should leave no gap wide enough to entrap a patient's head or body. Be aware that gaps can be created by movement or compression of the mattress which may be caused by patient weight, patient movement, or bed position."

In 2006, the FDA issued voluntary guidance, instructing nursing homes and hospitals on the use of bed rails, and recommending size limits for gaps and openings.  Newer hospital beds come with features like safety straps to prevent patients from sliding between bars.

Nursing homes should also take care to avoid assembling beds with parts (mattress, rails, frame) from different manufacturers, which can create dangerous gaps. 

If you or a loved one has been injured in a bed side rail accident contact one of a Waterbury personal injury lawyers at D'Amico & Pettinicchi today.

Ph: (866) 848-7077.