The New York Times published a story recently that will hopefully raise awareness of an issue that has been on the radar of senior safety advocates for years: bed rails. While seemingly innocuous and intended to act as a safety device themselves, bed rails actually increase the risk of harm to those using them. Many seniors with sickness or disabilities are placed in beds with these rails, and some of them suffer serious injury (even death) as a result.
The article shared the heartbreaking story that is similar to experiences by many others. A family made the heartbreaking choice to move their elderly mother into an assisted living facility as she began showing more and more signs of dementia. The move was to protect her, to prevent her from wandering and to ensure that she had the care she needed to stay safe in her golden years. However, instead of providing additional safety, the move ultimatey killed her. Within a few months she was found dead–strangled by the rails that we placed on her bed in the home.
Raising Awareness of Nursing Home Bed Rail Deaths
The daughter of the victim in that case used the tragedy as a spur to learn more about the dangers of bed rails and work to prevent future accidents. She was shocked to learn that while public product safety experts had known about bed rail deaths for years, little was done. The daughter began contacting influential organizations, writing letters, and otherwise trying to get safety professionals to move. Eventually her work paid off, and the federal consumer product safety commissions agreed to study the issue in 2010.
The study revealed that at least 150 people–mostly elderly seniors–were killed as a result of bed rails in recent years. Another 35,000 were injured during the same time. That amounts to several thousand accidents each and every year from a product that is supposed to prevent harm, not cause it. Even then, the statistics are undoubteldy underestimates, because they come only from ER records where bed rails were explicitly listed as a problem. Many cases may involve the rails but fail to be explicitly indicated in records. A separate review from the NYT found that since 1995 there have been 550 bed rail deaths–27 in 2011 alone.
The use of the data to prevent future harm has been slow going. Regulators first took note of the problem in 1995, but even then the policymakers refused to require safety warnings on the products, instead “voluntary guidelines” were issued–but not until 11 years later, in 2006. In addition, there have not been any substantive requirements to increase safety standards on the products. The cost of replacing older bed rails is usually indicated as the main problem.
Another problem is that there is regulatory confusion over who is responsible for ensuring the safety of the rails. Is it a regular consumer product or a medical device? Different agences deal with the safety of each. Claims about its use is to help specifically with Alzheimers and dementia patients suggests it might be a medical device, but otherwise it could be viewed as any other non-medical product.
No matter what the categorization, the attorneys at our firm in Chicago appreciate that there is no excuse for delay and foot dragging when it comes to improving dangerous products and ensuring future patients and nursing home residents are not unexpectedly injured or killed as a result of these rails.
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Reminder: Bed Rail Dangers are Real