Warnings About the Dangers of Bed Rails in Ohio Nursing Homes

bedrails in Ohio nursing homesWhen the nursing home where Clara Marshall lived advised her family to buy bed rails to help keep her from falling, the family never imagined the devices would lead to her death.  But that is what happened in the spring of 2007, just five months after the 81-year-old Mrs. Marshall, who had begun suffering from the effects of dementia, moved into a Vancouver, Wash. facility that offered round-the-clock care.

Clara’s family was never told about any problems with the bed rails or that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) had issued safety warnings about them as early as 1995.  This information was discovered by Mrs. Marshall’s daughter, Gloria Black, who has spent the years since her mother’s death investigating nursing home negligence regarding the devices and government inaction after agencies became aware there were serious problems.  Mrs. Black talked recently with The New York Times and gave details of her ordeal.

Mrs. Marshall was found dead in her bed, apparently strangled, her neck caught in the bed’s side rails.  It is speculated she became a victim of “entrapment,” which occurs when a nursing home resident tries to get out of bed and is prevented from doing so by a bed rail.  Injury often occurs and even many deaths as Ms. Black discovered.  Her letter to the federal CPSC in 2010 prompted a review of bed rail deaths.

From  2003 through May 2012, the CPSC reported 150 adults, mostly elderly people, became trapped in bed rails and died.  Another 36,000 were injured. The information was collected from death certificates and emergency room data.  The agency acknowledges that the accuracy of the count may be affected by data that understates the problem because bed rails are not always listed as a cause of death by nursing homes and coroners.  Additionally, many emergency room doctors do not list them as a cause of injury.

The FDA revealed about 550 bed rail-related deaths had occurred since 1995 when the FDA began to issue warnings about bed rails.  In 2011 alone, 27 people died.  The information was collected from FDA data, lawsuits, state nursing home inspection reports and interviews.

The FDA issued warnings about the devices 17 years ago, but did not require manufacturers to put safety labels on the bed rails because of industry resistance and Congress’ non-regulatory mood versus business at the time.  By 2006, the FDA issued guidelines instructing medical personnel on how to use bed rails, but the guidelines were only voluntary.   They recommended size limits for the gaps and openings in the rails and identified body parts most at risk for getting stuck in the rails.   In 2011, seven “entrapment” zones were identified.

The FDA claims it has been unclear whether bed rails are medical devices regulated by the FDA or consumer products regulated by the CPSC.  The agencies are currently working on finding a way to close the regulatory gap between the two bodies with regard to the status of bed rails.

Bed rails can be effective in protecting frail, older patients and are still used chiefly for restraint in many of the nation’s nursing homes.  Experts say most problems arise when the mattress, rails and frame come from different manufacturers.  This causes dangerous gaps in the assembly of the bed which allows a person to slip out between the mattress and the rails.

Improving designs and replacing older bed rail models with ones that feature safety straps are some ways to improve the situation.  Nursing homes can also implement programs to deter bed rail incidents such as scheduled toileting, identification of residents with delirium, and administration of increased pain medication prior to bed.

Nursing home residents who have cognitive impairment, like Clara Marshall did, are the most likely to become confused and become injured or worse in an incident involving bed rails.  Mrs. Marshall, who had wandered away from home before the decision was made to move her to the assisted living facility, had already been injured in an earlier fall at the home when she rolled out of bed.

It is difficult to keep track of everything that is going on at an assisted living facility or nursing home where your relative is a resident.  (In Gloria Black’s case, she lived in Oregon and the home her mother lived in was in Washington.) This is especially true if your family member is not always aware of what is happening around them.

From time to time, you may need legal help—if you suspect nursing home abuse or negligence from nursing home staff.  The Ohio law firm of Slater & Zurz LLP  has experienced nursing home abuse attorneys who are skilled in the areas of elder care.

You can call them at 1-888-709-9967 to discuss your concerns or visit their web page http://stopohionursinghomeabuse.com to learn more about nursing home abuse and neglect issues in Ohio.

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About slaterzurz

Slater & Zurz LLP is an Ohio law firm of highly experienced and respected attorneys. Over the last 40 years, we have developed a reputation for getting positive results for clients. We've been trusted with handling over 20,000 personal injury cases and our clients have received more than $120,000,000.

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