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Vermont Woman Dies After Getting Trapped Between Bed Rail and Mattress at Assisted Living Facility

The family of a 95 year old woman who died last November after becoming trapped between her bed rail and mattress at Pillsbury Manor South nursing home in Burlington, Vermont is suing for inadequate staffing and supervision, as well as use of an inappropriate bed.

Injuries and suffocation from becoming trapped in a bed rail or between a bed rail and a mattress are unfortunately not-so-rare tragedies in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Unlike those used by children, there is not a uniform set of safety standards to which bed rails used by the elderly must adhere.

Bed Rail Deaths Not Tracked
Nursing homes and health officials do not track bed rail entrapment deaths, as they are typically classified as death by compressional asphyxia, with no mention of the surrounding circumstances. Because of this, it’s hard to accurately estimate the number of elderly deaths that have resulted from compressed entrapment. In 2013, the Chicago Tribune ran a report on the dangers of bed rails for the elderly and cited what statistics they could gather: “The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates bed rails that qualify as medical devices, has received 901 reports of patients caught, trapped, entangled or strangled in hospital bed rails, including 531 deaths, since 1985. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has collected reports of 160 incidents related to portable bed rails — including 155 adult fatalities — between 2003 and 2012.”

The article also quoted Steven Miles, a bioethics professor from University of Minnesota who was one of the first to alert federal agencies of the danger to the elderly. Miles says “They can’t even scream; air is squeezed out of the lungs,” he said. “The problem is worse because this mostly happens to small people who can go into slots between the mattress and the rail. They don’t have the strength to extricate themselves or are confused and demented.”

Potential Regulation May Be On the Horizon
Bed rails are not to be used as restraints, but can be used to aid mobility and to prevent falls. However, there’s a catch-22 associated with their use, as their safety can be quickly overshadowed by a tragic fall when trying to climb over the rails, or by becoming trapped between a mattress and the rail. The safest option is a hospital-type bed, in which the rails are a part of the bed themselves. When portable rails are placed on a bed, the potential for entrapment between a mattress and the rails is much greater. Hospital beds are considered medical equipment and are FDA-regulated. Portable bed rails fall under the purview of the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

In 2013, the CPSC petitioned for an outright ban or at least a ‘standard issue’ type of bed safety rail for beds.  The ban would include beds used by children, as well as adults in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Voting has been deferred for years and is due to be reevaluated in September of this year. If a full ban on bed rails doesn’t pass, enacting bed rail standards could also help prevent many future deaths.

The Illinois nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys of Levin & Perconti have handled numerous cases of  bed rail entrapment with positive results, including a $570,000 settlement for the estate of a woman who died after suffocating between her mattress and bed rail at an Illinois nursing home. While many nursing homes have opted to eliminate bed rails due to their risk, just as many continue to use them.

If a loved one has suffered from becoming trapped in a bed rail, their own bedding, or between bed rails and a mattress, you may have a legal right to compensation. Please contact the Chicago nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys of Levin & Perconti for a free consultation at 1-877-374-1417 or by using our online consultation request form.