When we place a loved one in a nursing home, we hope for and expect that the highest standard of care be provided to them. This includes adequate nutrition, attention to their medical needs, hygiene, and a safe environment. Unfortunately, nursing home abuses are rampant due to understaffing, under-trained staff, and high turnover. Among various types of physical abuse is the danger of bedrail injuries.

Why Bedrails are Used

Bedrails are side or safety rails that are placed on patients’ beds to prevent them from falling to the floor and suffering a head injury or broken limb. Such measures are used for certain patients who are at risk for falling to the floor. These include patients who are incontinent and who suffer from uncontrolled body movement, pain, and who have a history of getting out of bed and wandering around unassisted. If bedrails are being considered for a patient, many senior advocacy groups strongly recommend that the patient be carefully assessed and that other safety measures be discussed before deciding on installing bedrails.

There are benefits for using bedrails. These include:

  • Providing a feeling of safety and comfort to the patient
  • Enabling the patient to have a hand-hold for getting up and out of bed
  • Providing an aid in turning while in bed
  • Reducing the risk of falling when transporting a patient
  • Providing easy access for controls and to certain personal items

However, they can become a hazard if not installed properly or because of a defect. Frail patients are prone to becoming trapped between the rail and mattress. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there have been 828 incidents of residents who became entangled, trapped or suffocated because of bedrails between 1985 and 2015. Of course, there are likely thousands of unreported incidents or where the nursing home attributed the incident to some other factor. When trapped between the mattress and rail, a resident who is too infirm or incapacitated or sedated to wriggle free from the gap can have their chest impacted and suffocate. For others, they may attempt to climb over the rail and fall to the floor, suffering serious injuries.

Again, bedrails should only be used under very selective circumstances where a patient is otherwise at high risk of injury from falling. Also, there should be a reassessment of the need for bedrails on a frequent basis.

How to Prevent Bedrail Injuries

Bedrail injuries can be prevented by ensuring that there is no or very little space or gap between the rail and mattress. If four fingers can fit in the space, then the gap is too wide. The mattress should be held tight against the bed frame.

There are bedrails that are designed for certain bed frames so that there is no gap. However, nursing home staff will generally disassemble beds and mix the wrong frame with the wrong mattress and bed.

Although bedrails are regulated by the FDA, most of these pertain to toddlers or children. The organization has issued warnings about these devices but not warning labels. Also, there are only voluntary guidelines. Still, when an accident or fatality occurs, speak to a nursing home lawyer.

Manufacturers can also be held responsible in some cases. If they fail to note or emphasize the danger of gaps between rail and mattress or to insist on safety checks and what is considered an unsafe gap, then they could be liable for any resulting injuries. A defect in how the bedrails are set up can also pose a danger. An experienced nursing home lawyer can determine if a manufacturer may be held liable or if the nursing home is solely to blame.

If a nursing home is planning to use a bedrail with your loved one, be sure to see if the rail is one designed for the bed frame and mattress and, of course, check to see if a gap exists. You might also see if the nursing home has been cited for failing to protect against the risk of bedrail injuries.

Retain Tetzel Law–A Nursing Home Law Firm

Paul Tetzel is a nursing home lawyer who has represented the interests and needs of seniors and their families for many years. In nursing home abuse and injury cases, he has the experience and knowledge needed to explore and investigate these claims and to hold nursing homes accountable if your loved one has been harmed. Call his office today at (617) 933-3858.