Little Rock, AR (Law Firm Newswire) July 22, 2014 - Although bed rails are designed to keep frail nursing home residents in their beds, they may instead end up killing them.
“Nursing homes and other elder care facilities have many residents that benefit from a bed rail to help them get in and out of bed, or keep them safe if they are sleeping and restless. It most instances, bed rails provide an extra bit of mobility. However if they are not used correctly, not installed properly, or are defective and a patient is severely harmed or dies, the home may be sued for medical malpractice and the bed rail maker sued for a defective product,” outlines Arkansas injury lawyer, Michael Smith.
There are two common injuries associated with bed rails in nursing homes: entrapment between the mattress and the bed rail and getting caught between the rails. This often leads to asphyxiation or strangulation. Elderly patients are not always strong enough to shift their position and get out of trouble, may not be able to reach a call button for help or may suffer from dementia and do not understand what is happening. “Nursing home facilities with dementia patients are also aware that during an episode of confusion or disorientation, they try to climb out of bed over the rails, which may cause a broken hip or shoulder,” Smith adds.
While bed rail accidents might seem insignificant in light of other medical conditions and situations the elderly may suffer from, the fact is that between 2003 and 2011, nearly 37,000 individuals were taken for emergency care as a result of injuries sustained in a bed rail accident. Of that 37,000, 155 succumbed to their injuries. Although the numbers of accidents may seem high, it is speculated the number is actually higher due to improper reporting, underreporting to avoid liability or inaccurate reporting of a fall that no one saw and thus did not connect the incident with a bed rail mishap.
Concerns about bed rails are not new. In 1995, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning that the industry resisted. At that time there were no requirements to affix safety labels and/or warnings on bed rails and the industry would not comply. However, they did eventually adopt some voluntary guidelines in 2006 relating to bed rails and their use. Those guidelines laid out how to properly use bed rails and included recommended width limits for the mattress gap (between the rails and mattress) and the width between rails. The guidelines also outlined which body parts were at high risk to get stuck. Although the warnings and newer redesigned bed rails did help to address the problem to a certain extent, injuries and deaths continue to happen.
In 2013, a federal investigation began looking into seniors dying as a result of becoming entangled in bed rails. In June 2013 the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the FDA struck a committee to develop standards for portable bed rails for adults. “There are many concerns about the use of bed rails, whether they have been redesigned or not. Concerned consumer advocates insist they be banned outright and recalled,” says Smith. “If a nursing home or other senior care facility does not diligently monitor the safe use of bed rails, does not consider using other safer alternatives, such as safety mats, or lowering the bed or fails to maintain their equipment in good working order, they may find themselves facing a medical negligence lawsuit.”
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