Adult portable bed rails - the kind used in so many nursing homes, hospitals and home health care facilities throughout Tennessee - will soon be under an updated set of voluntary safety standards, per a joint directive from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
Our Knoxville premise liability lawyers know that while the rails themselves have come under heightened scrutiny in recent years, it is ultimately the responsibility of administrators and staffers caring for the infirm to ensure the health and safety of their patients. Because the dangers of these devices have been well-established, particularly among individuals who suffer from Alzheimer's disease or dementia, nursing homes should already have safety measures in place to prevent serious injury or death resulting from the use of the devices.
Adult bed rails are typically made of metal and are set up along both sides of the bed with the intention of helping persons to either pull themselves up or prevent them from falling.
The latter is a particularly important goal, considering recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noting that while about 5 percent of those over the age of 65 reside in a nursing home, this group accounts for about 20 percent of all deaths from falls. Patients often fall more than once, with the average falling about 2.6 times per year and about 35 percent of those unable to walk.
About 20 percent of falls at nursing homes cause serious injuries and about 6 percent are fatal.
So yes, it's important for facilities to do all they can to prevent falls from occurring among elderly residents. At the same time, these bed rails have been known to also cause serious injuries and deaths, since at least as far back as 1995. That's when the FDA received an extensive report on the matter.
Unfortunately patients, especially those with forms of dementia, become confused and end up becoming trapped in between the bed rail and the mattress. Since 1995, there have been at least 550 bed-rail-related deaths in the country. Of those, about 155 occurred between January 2003 through September 2012. The vast majority of those who were killed were over the age of 60.
Additionally, there were about 37,000 people from 2003 through 2011 who were seriously injured in bed rail accidents and had to be rushed to a nearby hospital emergency room. That's about 4,000 people each year.
In the past, the FDA and the CPSC attempted to pass the buck on regulations for these devices, as the agencies couldn't agree whether they were a consumer product or a medical device. At one point, the FDA tried to require warning labels on the products, but received such backlash that agency officials back down.
In the end, the compromise was a list of voluntary manufacturing standards, introduced in 2006. However since then, we have continued to see people killed and seriously injured using these adult bed rails.
So now, both federal agencies say they are dedicated to updating that list of guidelines. But again, they will be voluntary, so it remains to be seen whether the new standards will have much impact.
Nursing homes should be vigilant in either finding alternatives to keep elderly patients safe or in checking on them frequently enough that if an incident were to occur, they would catch it in time to avert a serious or fatal accident.
Those concerned about nursing home neglect or abuse can contact Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657.
U.S. Agencies to Develop Standards for Bed Rails, June 14, 2013, By Ron Nixon, The New York Times
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