Side bed rails are a well known hazard. Since the 1980s, the FDA has been informed about incidents of death and serious injury resulting from people becoming entrapped in bed rails. Since 1995, the FDA has been informing bed rail suppliers, hospitals and nursing homes about the potential dangers of side rails. The FDA has also issued guidance about how to lessen the risk of entrapment and protect patients.
There are two ways in which beds with side rails can be safer for patients. First, beds that are currently in use in hospitals and nursing homes can be fixed with simple, low cost accessories that are meant to reduce or eliminate the dangerous gaps created by the bed rails. In fact, the FDA's hospital bed safety workgroup put out a A Guide for Modifying Bed Systems and Using Accessories to Reduce the Risk of Entrapment in June 2006. The comprehensive guide provides a lot of information about both how to assess beds for potential entrapment dangers and information about how to fix the problems that are found. Second, beds with side rails can be redesigned so as to completely eliminate the danger. In fact, some better designs already exist.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have listed entrapment in bed rails as a "never event" meaning that bed rail accidents should never happen. They are completely preventable. So, why do they keep happening? Are over 700 injuries and fatalities too low a number to be concerned about? Certainly not, if you or your loved one is the victim. Are the costs of providing a safe bed higher than the benefits of preventing entrapment in bed rails? No, the FDA has provided facilities with information about low cost methods that can be used to significantly reduce the danger. Does retrofitting the beds create too great a burden for hospital and nursing home personnel? Again, the methods described by the FDA are simple and will not take a great amount of employee time nor effort.
It is clear that the danger created by side bed rails is well known. The United States government, the bed rail suppliers, the hospitals and the nursing homes are all well aware of the entrapment risk that is present when side bed rails are used, particularly with elderly patients. What is unclear is why people keep getting hurt and dying when the solution to the problem is simple and inexpensive.
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