Bedrails are supposed to provide additional protection and security, ensuring that the occupant of the bed cannot roll out on the floor, where they would sustain a potentially serious injury. However, the situation is often not that simple. In fact, bedrails have been implicated in injuries to bedridden seniors for some years now. It is a tragedy when something designed ostensibly to provide better safety, in fact, causes greater injuries.
What Are Bedrail Injuries?
Bedrails are made from metal and are designed to be raised and lowered to prevent or allow entrance or exit from the bed. They are standard equipment on most hospital beds today and are used in long-term care facilities and nursing homes. However, they are very dangerous, particularly for seniors with incapacitating medical conditions or a lack of physical mobility.
According to the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration), bedrails were responsible for catching, trapping or entangling over 900 seniors between 1985 and 2013. Over half of those injuries led to the death of the senior. Between 2003 and 2012, an additional 155 fatalities relating to bedrail injuries were reported. Included in this number were 143 individuals who died as a result of entrapment, 11 who were killed in falls on the bed rail, and one individual who died after hitting his head on the bed rail.
Many bedrail injuries relate directly to manufacturing and design errors. Faulty bedrails are installed on a hospital bed and leave dangerous gaps between the bedrail and the edge of the bed. If the hospital does not perform a safety inspection on the bedrails, the situation will not be noticed, potentially leaving the bed’s occupant in danger
According to a report from the CPSC entitled Adult Portable Bed Rail-Related Deaths, Injuries, and Potential Injuries, “Rail entrapment occurred when the victim was caught, stuck, wedged or trapped between the mattress/bed and the bed rail, between bed rail bars, between a commode and rail, between the floor and the rail, or between the headboard and rail. Based on these reports, the most commonly injured body parts were the neck and head”.
The Situation as It Stands Today
The most common cause of injury from bedrails is when the patient becomes wedged between the bed and the bedrail. If the patient is taking medication that makes them drowsy, they may not even know they are entrapped, and may suffocate themselves. There are also complications arising from the frailty of nursing home patients, who lack the strength to pull themselves out of the gap once they become entrapped. If nursing staff is spread thin, it may be hours before a professional checks on the patient, during which time they may suffer serious injury or even death.
Why Are Bedrails Still Used?
Bedrails are used in nursing homes and other facilities to provide prevention of falls. This is particularly true for elderly patients with limited mobility and limited dexterity. The bedrails can also provide additional support for patients attempting to readjust themselves within the bed to relieve pressure on the skin and to make themselves more comfortable.
Another complication is the fact that most bedrails are designed to be used with a specific bed frame and mattress to minimize gaps that could cause injury. However, nursing homes and other facilities frequently move, dissemble and reassemble beds, and they do not always use the correct bedrails for the frame or mattress in question. This can leave gaps that could entrap elderly patients, leading to injuries.
Safeguarding Against Bedrail Injuries
While there is no way to guarantee that an elderly patient will not be injured by bedrails, particularly if the wrong rails are used for the frame and mattress, there are a few safeguards that can help to reduce the risk. First, push the mattress as far from the rail as possible. If there is a significant gap, then it is not safe and should be replaced with the correct rail for the bed frame/mattress being used.
If you have a loved one who has suffered a bedrail injury, contacting an elder abuse attorney can help you find the closure you need.