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In Wake Of Patient Fatalities, Bedrails Deserve More Regulation

Bedrails Related FatalitiesOne of the fixtures of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities is the ‘hospital’ bed. Many of us have become so accustomed seeing this piece of medical equipment in patient rooms that we hardly give much thought to the fact that these devices are indeed medical equipment– and when not used properly, there’s an opportunity for patient injury or even death.

A patient dying due to problems with his bed?

As shocking as it may initially sound, patients are routinely injured or killed when they become entrapped in the bed that they were given by a facility. A recent New York Times article, “Consumer Agency Finds Most Adult Bedrail Deaths Are Among Those 60 and Older” discussed how the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a report chronicling bedrail safety from 2003 through 2011. All told, data from death certificates and emergency room visits suggests that 155 deaths and nearly 37,000 injuries were directly attributable to complications with bedrails on hospital beds.

While perhaps some will look at the data from the report and shrug their shoulders at the relatively infrequency with which people are injured or killed, these numbers deserve attention because these situations are largely preventable. While there was little distinction as to what exactly may have happened to cause the injury or the specific models involves, the overall lack of regulation for these common devices is apparent.

Presently, the state of bedrail regulation is very much in flux as there is precious little input given with respect towards regulation of these beds– do they fall under the oversight of the CPSC or the Food and Drug Administration? Should bedrails be considered ‘medical equipment’ or ‘consumer products’? Thankfully, some of these important distinctions may be addressed as Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts recently called upon the Federal Trade Commission to address the regulation of bedrails and bed systems.

Evaluating bedrail entrapment cases involving a medical facility

Like most other injuries involving nursing home patients, I initially tend to evaluate these cases based upon the role that the facility may have had with respect to the supervision the patient.  After determining the role of the facility during the time leading up to the incident (when was the last bed check? were their prior problems with the bed?), I may then look at the bed itself.

Having worked on a number of bedrail entrapment cases, I usually include a claim against the product manufacturer and/or distributor.  In most cases, there is precious little instruction given as to how these beds are to be safely assembled or what size mattress is to be used.  Unfortunately, as mattresses are routinely disposed of, the replacement mattress rarely has the exact dimensions of the original one.  Consequently, unintended gaps between the side of the mattress and bedrail may form– further exacerbating the danger to the patient.

As the bedrail safety issue begins to receive some of the attention that it deserves, I hope that attention gets focused on the significance of a proper fitting mattress.

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