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New scrutiny of nursing home, hospital patients' bed rail deaths

Bed rails used in hospitals and nursing homes might at first blush seem the most innocuous of things and, when mentioned in the context of safety, deemed to be tools of the trade that enhance safety outcomes. The devices enable patients to more easily pull themselves out of bed and prevent incidents of patients falling out of beds. Through the use of safety straps, they also allow for temporary restraint of some patients -- for example, those still groggy following surgery -- who might otherwise attempt to get mobile too quickly.

But then there's this statistic, culled by New York Times investigators from regulatory data, nursing home negligence lawsuits, inspection reports and other material: Since the FDA first issued safety warnings and voluntary guidelines about the beds in 1995, the devices have been the primary catalysts in the deaths of about 550 people. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 150 mostly adult patients have died within a recent 10-year period after they became trapped in bed rails. Over that same time frame, an additional 36,000 persons were injured.

A number of commentators note that mandatory fixes -- such as reduced gaps between rail openings and better warning labels -- were not ordered following the FDA warning, owing primarily to a strongly anti-regulatory attitude that prevailed in Congress at that time.

The sentiment is now quite different, with safety advocates' acknowledgment that bed rail deaths are entirely preventable leading to a renewed government inquiry into how to make them completely safe for patients.

We will keep readers apprised of further material developments concerning this matter and any regulatory changes in response to it.

If your parent or other loved one has been injured as a result of nursing home abuse or neglect, please contact Breslin & Breslin for a free consultation.

Source: New York Times, "After dozens of deaths, inquiry into bed rails," Ron Nixon, Nov. 25, 2012

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