After Dozens of Deaths, Inquiry Into Bed Rails

Do you have an elderly or disabled loved one who uses bed rails to keep him or her either from getting out of bed unassisted or from falling out of bed? If so, you need to read a recent article in the New York Times detailing the potential danger of bed rails. This is really an important alert. Here are excerpts:

In November 2006, when Clara Marshall began suffering from the effects of dementia, her family moved her into the Waterford at Fairway Village, an assisted living home in Vancouver, Wash. The facility offered round-the-clock care for Ms. Marshall, who had wandered away from home several times. Her husband, Dan, 80 years old at the time, felt he could no longer care for her alone.

But just five months into her stay, Ms. Marshall, 81, was found dead in her room apparently strangled after getting her neck caught in side rails used to prevent her from rolling out of bed.

After Ms. Marshall’s death, her daughter Gloria Black, who lives in Portland, Ore., began writing to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Food and Drug Administration. What she discovered was that both agencies had known for more than a decade about deaths from bed rails but had done little to crack down on the companies that make them. Ms. Black conducted her own research and exchanged letters with local and state officials. Finally, a letter she wrote in 2010 to the federal consumer safety commission helped prompt a review of bed rail deaths.

Data compiled by the consumer agency from death certificates and hospital emergency room visits from 2003 through May 2012 shows that 150 mostly older adults died after they became trapped in bed rails. Over nearly the same time period, 36,000 mostly older adults — about 4,000 a year — were treated in emergency rooms with bed rail injuries. Officials at the F.D.A. and the commission said the data probably understated the problem since bed rails are not always listed as a cause of death by nursing homes and coroners, or as a cause of injury by emergency room doctors.

Forcing the industry to improve designs and replace older models could have potentially cost bed rail makers and health care facilities hundreds of million of dollars, said Larry Kessler, a former F.D.A. official who headed its medical device office. “Quite frankly, none of the bed rails in use at that time would have passed the suggested design standards in the guidelines if we had made them mandatory,” he said. No analysis has been done to determine how much it would cost the manufacturers to reduce the hazards.

Bed rails are metal bars used on hospital beds and in home care to assist patients in pulling themselves up or helping them out of bed. They can also prevent people from rolling out of bed. But sometimes patients — particularly those suffering from Alzheimer’s — can get confused and trapped between a bed rail and a mattress, which can lead to serious injury or even death.

Since those first warnings in 1995, about 550 bed rail-related deaths have occurred, a review by The New York Times of F.D.A. data, lawsuits, state nursing home inspection reports and interviews, found. Last year alone, the F.D.A. data shows, 27 people died.

Lara L. Mahoney, a spokeswoman for Invacare, a manufacturer of medical beds and rails in Elyria, Ohio, said newer hospital beds with side rails and stand-alone bed rails are better designed today and come with features like safety straps to prevent patients from sliding between parallel bars.

Industry officials say despite the deaths and injuries reported from the use of bed rails, the devices can be an effective way of keeping frail older patients safe. The problem, they say, is when the bed parts — such as the mattress, rails and frame — come from different manufactures.

“This is when you get dangerous gaps in the assembly of the bed which allows a person to slip out between the mattress and rails and get injured,” said Lance Lockwood, an industry consultant and former employee of Hill-Rom in Batesville, Ind., a medical device company that makes hospital beds and bed rails. “This is something that should be explained to nursing homes and family members before they go out and buy these devices.”

This entry was posted in Medical & Health Resources or Issues, Safety Issues for the Elderly. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.