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Bed rails meant to keep patients safe may cause more harm than good

Parents of infants have long been concerned with their children rolling in their sleep and falling out bed during the night. Consequently, bed rails were created and, later, bumpers took the place of rails, potentially to prevent the risk of infants becoming stuck in the rails. Then, it was determined that bumpers actually caused more harm than good due to the risk of suffocation.

Recently, the bed rail concerns have been identified as equally dangerous issues for vulnerable adults, particularly the elderly. While the issue has been addressed and perspectives changed multiple times when it comes to infant safety, only recently has the concern over bed rails on adult beds been brought to light. Nevertheless, research has revealed that bed rails can pose serious hazards for vulnerable adults, resulting in severe personal injuries and even death.

From 2003 through mid-2012, approximately 36,000 people, primarily elderly adults, were taken to emergency rooms after sustaining injuries caused by bed rails. During the same period, 150 people, again primarily composed of elderly adults, died after becoming stuck in the rails meant to protect them from falling out of bed in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities.

While bed rails have some advantages for keeping elderly adults out of harm's way, a conversation has now been started to determine whether the risks outweigh these benefits. For instance, bed rails lower the risk of an individual falling out of bed and can help frail adults who wish to turn over or get out of bed. On the other hand, they also increase the risk of an individual being strangled or suffocating when stuck between the rails. Bed rails also reportedly can create a sense of entrapment, resulting in people feeling anxious or agitated, particularly among older individuals suffering from cognitive diseases, such as dementia.

Are bed rails consumer products or medical devices?

One of the reasons the issue of bed rail safety for adults has not been addressed previously is a lack of consensus among government agencies regarding which division has purview over the devices.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is responsible for regulating consumer products, has typically held that bed rails are medical devices. Therefore, it has refrained from dictating regulations on the products.

The Food and Drug Administration, however, has stated that in some situations, the bed rails may be seen as consumer products, rather than medical devices. According to the FDA, if the manufacturer does not make certain claims about the product -such as that it will prevent patients with dementia from falling - it cannot be considered a medical device. In such situations, the FDA has stated it does not have the capacity to regulate the product.

Bed rail safety in nursing homes

Not surprisingly, the issue of bed rail safety is particularly acute in long-term care facilities, where staff members are responsible for the care of many elderly, vulnerable adults. According to the FDA, there are approximately 2.5 million beds in hospitals and long-term care facilities currently in use across the country.

The FDA estimates that from 1985 through the end of 2008, 803 people were caught in bed rails in such environments. The FDA further reported that 480 of those incidents resulted in the death of the patient.

While efforts are being made to improve the safety of bed rails, tragic incidents continue to occur. In 2011, 27 people died due to incidents involving bed rails.

If you have a loved one who has been injured or died as a result of bed rails, an experienced New York personal injury attorney will ensure just compensation is received.