With the American population increasing in age, more care for seniors is being administered. Some seniors receive care while still in their homes, while others move to assisted living facilities. A common denominator for both scenarios is the increased use of hospital beds with adjustable rails. The rails keep patients from falling out of bed, and help patients who suffer from illnesses that make them prone to wandering off stay in a safe location.
There is, however, a serious problem with using beds with adjustable rails: An increasing number of patients have been injured or killed after their heads became stuck in the rails. Severe neck injury and strangulation can result from these bed rail incidents.
In one story published in The New York Times, an elderly woman in Tacoma, Washington, was strangled to death when her head became lodged inside a bed rail. Her daughter started an investigation and discovered that this is a known issue among bed manufacturers. Failure to act upon the issue could make bed manufactures liable in product liability lawsuits.
The federal government is also aware of the issue, but with the exception of adopting voluntary guidelines in 2006, it has done little to regulate the problem.
The Numbers Speak for Themselves
According to data analyzed by The New York Times, since 1996, when the first alarm regarding the dangers of bed rails was raised, there have been more than 550 bed rail accident deaths. From 2003 until May 2012, 150 deaths related to bed rails were recorded. This number could still misrepresent the total number of deaths because many hospitals and facilities do not list the bed rail as the cause of death, just the results from the incident with the bed rail.
Possible Bed Rail Legislation
In light of the latest reports on bed rail-related deaths, a Massachusetts congressman is calling on the federal government agencies to create tougher regulations on bed manufacturers. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) is asking the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to create a task force and crack down on manufacturers who insist on creating beds with known safety issues. In a letter to the FDA Commissioner, Rep. Markey explained that in order to safely regulate the industry, multiple regulatory agencies needed to be involved.
If legislation is passed or a task force is created to regulate the industry, there could be a decrease in bed rail-related injuries and deaths in our elderly population. In the meantime, loved ones should be aware of the danger. If an injury or fatality does occur, a victim and his or her family may be able to hold the bed manufacturers accountable and recover compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, funeral expenses and other damages through a product liability lawsuit.