Back in the fall of 2006, a woman in her 80s had just begun to suffer the effects of dementia. Her family moved her into an assisted living facility, one that could provide 24-7 care for the ailing wife and mother, who had wandered off several times. Five months later, she was dead. Her official cause of death was strangulation. Her neck had gotten caught in the side rails that were in place to prevent her from rolling out of bed.
Since then, the woman’s daughter has been on a campaign to raise awareness about the deadly nature of these rails. Astoundingly, both the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration knew for more than 10 years about the high number of nursing home deaths due to bed rails – but they’ve done little to combat the problem.
Two years ago, she finally drafted a letter of her own to the safety commission, prompting a review of bed rail deaths. The results of that study have just been released.
The data, culled from death certificates and information from hospital emergency rooms from 2003 through May 2012, indicates that more than 150 elderly adults died after becoming trapped in bed rails. During that same time frame, 36,000 adults, mostly older, were treated in hospital emergency rooms for bed rail injuries. That breaks down to roughly 4,000 incidents a year.
It’s worth noting that these figures are most likely understated. Bed rails aren’t always listed as the cause of death by medical examiners and nursing home administrators (the latter of whom are obviously interested in insulating themselves from liability).
Those who have studied these incidents say these incidents, and the deaths in particular, are avoidable. The FDA issued safety warnings about adult bed railings way back in 1995, but it stopped short of requiring makers of these devices to put warning labels on them. Why? According to the Times, it had to do with “industry resistance,” and at the time, Congress was leaning toward less regulations. Voluntary guidelines were adopted in 2006.
More warnings are needed, but there is question about how the devices should be categorized: Are they consumer products or medical devices? That makes a difference in which agency has regulatory power.
Still, nursing homes and home health care agencies have been amply warned about the dangers, and yet continue to use them.
A former FDA official interviewed by the Times indicated that replacement of older models could cost nursing homes, on the whole, millions of dollars. On the other hand, we’re talking about thousands of injuries and numerous preventable deaths occurring each year. Last year alone, there were 27 deaths attributed to the devices. Is this not worth it to take action?
Patients at particular risk are those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, who often get confused and can become trapped between the mattress and the rail.
The consumer safety agency issued a statement saying that as the elderly population increases with the number of aging baby boomers, we’re going to see an increase of these kinds of incidents, and it’s far past time to take action. These devices are widely used in these facilities, and to do nothing would be simply inviting further tragedy.
If your loved one has been injured or died as a result of bed rails in their nursing home, contact us today to find out more about the compensation to which you may be entitled.
Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
After Dozens of Deaths, Inquiry Into Bed Rails, Nov. 25, 2012, By Ron Nixon, The New York Times
More Blog Entries:
Study: New Nursing Home Patients At Increasing Risk of Falls, Dec. 8, 2012, Hollywood Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog