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Bed Rails: A Little-Known Danger to Nursing Home Residents

If your loved one becomes unable to care for himself or herself, you might turn to a nursing home to provide around-the-clock care. However, according to a recent story in the New York Times, doing so may increase the likelihood of your loved one being seriously injured or killed because of a common safeguard that is widely used in nursing homes: bed rails.

Bed rails are intended to help patients with tasks like pulling themselves up or getting in and out of bed. Additionally, they are also used to prevent patients from accidentally rolling out of bed. However, there is often a large gap between the mattress and bed rail. Sometimes patients, especially those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, can fall into the gap and become trapped, causing serious injury. If nursing home staff fails to discover the trapped patient soon, it can prove fatal, as patients can suffocate.

Bed rails are a significant source of nursing home injuries, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). From 2003 to May 2012, the administration reported that about 36,000 adults, about 4,000 per year, visited the emergency room because of bed rail injuries. Additionally, about 550 adults who were trapped by bed rails died since 1995.

Lack Of Regulations

The most troubling aspect of the problem is that nursing homes and regulators have long known about the dangers of bed rails, but have done little to address the problem.

According to the New York Times, the problem was first brought to the attention of the FDA in 1995. At the time, Congress and the rest of the federal government were against more regulations, so a safety alert was instead issued to nursing homes and home health care agencies. Although an alert was issued, patients and many others were kept in the dark about the problem, as the FDA shied away from requiring manufacturers to put warning labels on the bed rails.

As deaths continued after the FDA safety alert, in 1999, a group of patient advocates, medical device makers and FDA officials considered requiring warning labels. However, the FDA decided against it under pressure from bed rail manufacturers.

As of today, the FDA has still not instituted formal safety requirements for bed rails. However, in 2006 the agency issued “voluntary guidelines” that recommended limits on the size of gaps and openings in the bed rails and identified body parts that were most likely to get stuck.

Consult An Attorney

Whether formal action to stem the danger of bed rails will be taken in the future is a matter of speculation. In the meantime, if your loved one is injured, you have rights. If an unsafe or defective bed rail caused the injury, you are entitled to file a products liability lawsuit against the manufacturer to recover compensation. Additionally, if the nursing home failed to properly supervise your loved one, resulting in his or her injury or death, it could potentially be held liable in a nursing home negligence and/or wrongful death lawsuit.

If your loved one has been injured by a bed rail or as a result of nursing home negligence, contact an experienced attorney. An attorney can advise you of your options and work to ensure the responsible party is held accountable.

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