Deadly Results from Recent Bed Rails Report
 
By Jeff Pitman, President
Wisconsin Association for Justice
 

Having to place a family member in the care of a nursing home or assisted living facility can be one of the most difficult and stressful decisions a person will ever have to face. The resident and her family trust that she will be well taken care of and safe. This includes trusting that any medical equipment is safe.

 

Unfortunately, a recent report released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) concerning bed rail accidents and deaths in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, has given us another reason to worry about our loved ones.

 

The report cited 155 deaths involving bed rails from January 2003 to May 2012. About 126 of those who died were over the age of 60. According to the report, a quarter of bed rail deaths occurred at a nursing home or an assisted living facility.  Shockingly, the FDA has known that bed rails cause severe injury and death since 1995.

 

The CPSC report also found that nearly half of those who died in bed rail accidents at nursing homes or in an assisted living facility had medical problems like dementia, heart disease or Parkinson's disease. The deaths occurred when the patients became stuck in the bed rails or between the rail and the mattress, causing the patient's head or neck to become caught and ultimately leading to asphyxiation. Residents have also been known to climb over the rails resulting in entrapment or severe falls.

 

During the same time period, the report also revealed nearly 36,000 mostly older adults - about 4,000 a year - were treated in emergency rooms with bed rail injuries. Officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CPSC said the data probably understated the problem since bed rails are not always listed as a cause of death by nursing homes/assisted living facilities or as a cause of injury by emergency room doctors. The FDA issued its first alert in 1995. View Alert The State of Wisconsin issued its first alert about bed rail safety in 1997. View Alert Sadly, I've represented a family who lost their father when he was asphyxiated by a bed rail.

 

Consumer safety advocates, who have long campaigned for federal regulators to study bed rail deaths and injuries, called the report an important first step. But they said that it failed to address several issues, including jurisdictional matters concerning which agency has responsibility for some types of bed rails: the CPSC or the FDA. This is due to unanswered technical questions about which bed rails are medical devices and which are consumer products.

 

These accidents and deaths can be avoided. In 2006, the FDA issued voluntary guidelines, instructing hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities on the use of bed rails. They recommended size limits for the gaps and openings in the rails and identified body parts most at risk for getting stuck. That is a start, but even with these voluntary guidelines, it still is unclear as to what the CPSC and the FDA plan to do to prevent bed rail deaths and accidents. More can be done to educate facilities and staff on whether side rails are safe and appropriate for the resident. Accidents and deaths caused by bed rails can be avoided.

 

 

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For more information about the Wisconsin Association for Justice, see WAJ's website, www.wisjustice.org or call 608-257-5741.

 

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