Federal Report: Bedrails To Blame in Elderly Deaths

Jan 15, 2013 - Nursing Home Neglect by

An alarming report released recently by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warns of the dangers of adult bedrails – the metal bars fitted onto beds to keep people from falling out. brokenglasses

As our Tuscaloosa nursing home neglect lawyers have learned, these devices have reportedly been on the radar of federal regulators since at least 1995. Since that time, some 550 people have died after becoming stuck or strangled in the rails, and another 4,000 a year have had to be rushed to the emergency room for injuries.

Despite the human toll, the federal government has been reticent to take any action at all, according to reporting from The New York Times.

Back in 1995, a bioethics professor from Minnesota was the first individual to alert both the CPSC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of this alarming trend. But rather than take swift and definitive action, such as forcing the industry to improve designs and replace older models, the FDA instead sent out a safety warning to nursing homes, hospitals and home health care agencies. But it didn’t solve the issue of the inherent design flaws that led people to become stuck and strangled in between the rails and the space between the rails and the mattress.

Manufacturers did adopt “voluntary guidelines,” but it appears this did little to curb the incidents of death and injuries. Had federal authorities pushed for more decisive action at the start, many of these losses would have likely been prevented.

But the regulators reasoned that, for one, replacement of those older models would have cost both manufacturers and nursing homes hundreds of millions of dollars. (Nevermind the fact that these are collectively multi-billion dollar industries.) Secondly, there was bickering over who was actually responsible for regulation due to a question of whether bedrails are a consumer product or a medical device. A lot of it depends on the claims made by each individual manufacturer. That stipulation would dictate whether the CPSC or the FDA would take charge.

The new report, although it details a low estimate of the deaths and injuries caused by these metal devices, fails to answer that question.

The other thing the report failed to do was to investigate the actual design of the bedrails to determine where potential flaws may be addressed. Instead, the CPSC characterizes the report in the first step in determining how to educate the public and caregivers regarding potential hazards.

This perceived inaction was met with response by House of Representatives Democrat Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts. He called for both agencies, as well as the Federal Trade Commission, to join forces to form a task force that would hammer out a consistent form of regulation.

The report indicated that of the 155 people who had died as a result of strangulation from bedrails since January 2003, the vast majority were over the age of 60. Most involved the person getting his or her neck or head stuck. Half of the accident victims had other medical problems, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, and a fourth of those incidents happened at nursing homes where they were supposed to be receiving 24-7 care.

Additional Resources:

After Dozens of Deaths, Inquiry Into Bed Rails, Nov. 25, 2012, By Ron Nixon, The New York Times

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