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Nursing Home Bed Rail Entrapment Still an Ongoing Safety Concern

A report recently released by a state health department revealed the death of a prominent Pennsylvania businessman in a nursing home in September was caused by strangulation as a result of his bed rails. The nursing home was cited by the health department for safety deficiencies related to the death. Investigators with the department determined the facility failed to identify the hazard created by using the side rails that ultimately resulted in this man’s death. He reportedly suffered from the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease and was largely immobile too. He was discovered by a nursing assistant around 11:30 p.m. one night, not breathing, with his body on the floor and his neck between the mattress and the side rail of the bed. 

The health department took note of the fact that side rails are only supposed to be used to assist in helping a patient re-position himself when no other reasonable alternatives are identified. Even then, facilities are supposed to use reasonable precautions when they are being used. The facility removed all bed rails it had been using at the time shortly after decedent was discovered.

This is not a new problem. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has long been tracking injuries and deaths related to bed rail entrapment and strangulation in nursing homes. The agency reports that even when bed rails are properly designed to lower the potential risk of falls or entrapment, they still present a danger to certain people, namely those with some form of dementia (as they are at greater risk of a fall when they try to get out of bed, despite something being in their way). The agency reported that between 1985 and 2013 (the most recent period for which it conducted the analysis), there were 531 rail-related deaths. 

Our nursing home negligence attorneys in Fort Lauderdale know such incidents have reduced over the years as a growing number of nursing homes have stopped using bedrails altogether. In addition to strangulation, other risks the FDA cites for use of bedrails include:

  • More serious injuries from falls when a patient falls over the rails, instead of just off the side of the bed;
  • Bruising, cuts and scrapes;
  • Agitation when rails are used as a form of restraint;
  • Feelings of isolation and unnecessary restriction;
  • May prevent patients who would otherwise be able to get out of bed from performing routine functions of independence, such as using the bathroom or retrieving something from a closet.

The FDA indicates that if bedrails are going to be used, facilities need to do their best to reduce the chance of a nursing home injury by carefully monitoring high-risk patients. Other possible measures may include:

  • Lowering one or more sections of the bed rail, such as the foot rail;
  • Reducing the gap between the mattress and the side rail;
  • Using the proper size of mattress (with raised foam edges) to help prevent the odds of a patient getting trapped between the rail and the mattress.

Use of air mattresses in particular with bedrails is problematic because they have soft edges, and there is a greater risk of the bed “dumping” the person in the bed off the edge and into the rail. Patient in the Pennsylvania case was using an air mattress.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Rails and other restraints reduced in nursing homes, but deaths still occur, Nov. 27, 2017, By Gary Rotstein, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

More Blog Entries:

State Shutters Florida Assisted Living Facility Amid Filthy Conditions, Dec. 8, 2017, Fort Lauderdale Nursing Home Negligence Attorney Blog

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