Bed rails are a common sight in hospitals and nursing homes and can serve multiple purposes. According to the FDA, patients can use the rails when they are trying to move themselves around on a bed or get out of bed; they also provide a place to put controls or call buttons within easy reach of nursing home residents who may not be very mobile; and the most obvious benefit to bed rails is that they keep people from falling out of bed.
However, there are certain risks involved in the use of bed rails as well. Patients or residents can become trapped in the rails or between the rails and the bed, which can cause personal injury or even wrongful death. Edges on the rails may cut or bruise the skin. Residents may feel like they are trapped and unable to do anything for themselves.
The FDA suggests that nursing homes consider other options that would remove the need for bedrails altogether, such as positioning beds as low as they will go and placing mats around them on the floor to soften the fall of a resident. Monitoring the residents more frequently and providing adequate care may also help to keep them from attempting to get out of bed themselves if they are too weak or unbalanced to do so safely.
Manufacturers of bed rails and hospital beds claim that the rails only become unsafe when beds, mattresses, and rails from different lines or brands are used together. A former medical device employee stated “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.” Unfortunately, relatives of nursing home residents are most likely not aware of this because the products are not labeled with this warning.
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that numerous nursing home residents are injured or killed by bed rails every year. It appears that both the FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission have been aware of this situation for years, but each claimed the other was responsible. The FDA said bed rails are consumer products and are out of their jurisdiction, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission claims they are medical devices and should be governed by the FDA. But the Commission has recently started a study of bed rail injuries and deaths and will hopefully provide some guidance to manufacturers, nursing homes and those who have loved ones in nursing homes, so that these needless tragedies, which our firm has unfortunately witnessed, do not continue.
About the Editors: Our personal injury law firm has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC). The attorneys with the firm publish and edit articles on three Legal Examiner sites for the geographic areas of Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Northeast North Carolina as a pro bono service to the general public.