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The Surprising Dangers of Bed Rails

As surprising as it may be, bed rails are a significant cause of injury and death in nursing homes. Unsafe bed rails can lead to entrapment and falls, causing thousands of injuries every year in the U.S. All  bed rails should be used with caution, particularly among older adults, as we are warned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Bed Rail Injury Statistics

  • Approximately 2.5 million hospital and nursing home beds are currently being used in the U.S., as reported by the FDA.
  • 803 incidents were reported to the FDA of people being caught, entangled, trapped, or strangled in beds with rails between 1985 and January 1, 2009.
  • Most of the people injured by bed rails were elderly, frail, or confused.
  • 480 of the victims died from their injures.
  • 183 suffered nonfatal injuries.
  • 185 were not injured because staff intervened.

What Makes Bed Rails So Dangerous?

Bed rails on nursing home beds have certain benefits. They give some people a sense of security and reduce the risk of falling out of bed when a bedridden person is being transported. They provide a handhold for getting in or out of bed, aid in turning or repositioning, and provide access to bed controls and personal items. But along with the benefits come risks, including:

  • Strangling, suffocation, injury, or death when all or part of the body is caught between rails, or between the mattress and the bed rails
  • Falls with serious injuries when residents climb over the rails
  • Bruises, cuts, and scrapes
  • Preventing residents who can get out of bed to perform routine activities from doing so

How Do Bed Rail Nursing Home Deaths Occur?

A nursing home resident who gets lodged between the bedrail and the mattress may not have the strength to get out again. As the older person sinks further into this small space, the chest cavity can become compressed, making it impossible to breathe. Most nursing home bed rail deaths are caused by asphyxiation or cardiac arrest from the stress of being entrapped. Residents with cognitive impairment may try to roll over the rails and off the bed. Falls from these heights can cause fractured bones and other serious injuries.

How Can Bed Rails Be Made Safer?

As stated by the FDA, most patients do not require bed rails to be safely in bed. As an alternative, nursing homes can use beds that can be raised and lowered close to the floor to meet the needs of both nursing home staff and resident safety. Beds should be kept in the lowest position with the wheels locked. For patients at risk of falling out of bed, mats can be placed next to the bed, provided, this does not create a higher accident risk.

When bed rails must be used, high-risk residents must be closely monitored. Beds with rails can be made safer by:

  • Lowering one or more sections of the bedrail
  • Using a mattress of the proper size with raised foam edges to help prevent entrapment between the rail and the mattress
  • Reducing the gap between the mattress and the side rails

If your elderly loved one has been injured or killed in a nursing home bed rail accident, you may have a valid claim against the nursing home. Call (903) 207-5526 to schedule a free consultation with our New Mexico nursing home abuse lawyers at Sorey, Gilliland & Hull, LLP. We can tell you if you have a case and what damages you may be entitled to claim.