For many nursing home residents, bed rails can help to ensure protection from falling and help with stability when leaving the bed. However, some facilities negligently employ bed rails to restrict a resident’s movement, or use a type ill-suited to a resident’s situation. This can pave the way for bed rail entanglement or entrapment. This is a rare injury in nursing homes, but when it does happen it can be deadly.
Residents too weak or confused to navigate bed rails correctly may fall by trying to crawl over them, or become trapped between bed rails and the bed, a situation which often leads to asphyxiation. Statistically, people who find themselves in this situation are more likely to die than not. According to the FDA, 803 instances of assisted facility bed rail entanglement occurred between 1985 and 2009, with 480 deaths and 138 injuries resulting.
New Regulations on Bed Rails
In 2016, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued the first federal regulations on the use of bed rails in nursing homes. The new regulations specify that the facility must try alternative methods before resorting to bed rail usage, and place responsibility for proper bed rail installation and upkeep as well as resident suitability on the facility itself.
These regulations include:
- Assessing the resident for risk of entanglement before installing bed rails
- Obtaining informed consent from the resident or their representative
- Checking the bed’s dimensions to ensure they are appropriate for the resident’s needs and body type
- Following the bed rail manufacturer’s recommendations for installation and maintenance
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The Safe Use of Bed Rails
Bed rails do have utility in some cases. They can provide more able patients with help getting out of bed or repositioning in bed, reduce the risk of falls and provide a feeling of safety.
However, certain steps must also be taken to ensure their safe use. The facility needs to correctly monitor residents for any problems, and:
- Lower one or more sections to provide a route of egress
- Use a proper sized mattress to prevent patients from becoming trapped between the mattress and rail
- Provide a call button for the resident
What are the Risks of Using Bed Rails?
For many nursing homes, the risks of using bed rails aren’t considered. Many care facilities use outdated beds that come equipped with bed rails that may not be flexible enough to be tailored to their resident’s needs. By not countenancing this challenge, they create a situation where their residents must deal with the challenge themselves.
Potential risks of bed rails include:
- Entanglement injuries resulting from residents becoming caught between the bed rail and mattress
- A heightened risk of falling injury when patients climb over rails
- Bruising, cuts and scrapes from bed rail
- Inducing agitated or isolated feelings in residents
- Acting as an illegal physical restraint for residents who are able to get out of bed and do routine tasks by themselves
Alternatives to Bed Rails in Nursing Homes
There are many other ways for well-intended carers to meet the challenges of resident safety besides bed rails, including the following:
- Using beds that can be raised and lowered close to the floor
- Keeping the bed in the lowest position with wheels locked
- Placing mats next to the bed when resident is at risk of falling out of bed
- Using transfer or mobility aids
- Monitoring residents frequently
- Anticipating the reasons residents get out of bed and proactively meet these needs
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When to Consult with an Experienced Nursing Home Malpractice Attorney
When a nursing home resident is injured by bed rail entanglement, it’s a tragedy. When the bed rail was put there in the first place to restrict the movement of the resident, it may be cause for a malpractice lawsuit against the nursing facility or a defective device lawsuit against the bed rail manufacturer.
The best course of action if you feel that a nursing home or bed rail manufacturer has caused harm to a loved one is to consult with skilled attorneys like those at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt as soon as possible. With 30 years of experience in medical malpractice and consumer safety, McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt is well suited to evaluate the situation and help determine if the injury suffered involved acts of negligence or malpractice.