Pieces Sold Separately: Not a Good Idea for Beds with Side Rails

The Dangers of Bed Rails

Have you ever walked into a big mattress store and thought that all of your choices looked the same? While it can be difficult to differentiate between a Sealy and a Simmons bed, hospital and nursing home beds have some very definite characteristics.

Most hospital and nursing home beds have a frame, side rails and a mattress. The side rails are typically designed in one of three ways. They can be full rails which run the entire length of the bed, they can be half rails which extend for just a portion of the bed or they can be split rails which are two rails that are put next to each other on the same side of the bed. The mattresses can be conventional mattresses or air mattresses. They are meant to be used with different bed frames and side rails and it is not always safe to use them interchangeably. If the wrong type or size of mattress is used then gaps may occur between the mattress and the headboard, footboard or side rails. Hospitals and nursing homes also use mattress overlays for some patients. Patients who are essentially bedridden might need a mattress overlay to prevent bedsores. However, the overlay might change the fit of the mattress in the bed frame and with the bed rails resulting in dangerous gaps.

Often, the different components of the bed system are sold separately and, therefore, the pieces do not always fit together well. This leads to the dangerous gaps in the bed system in which people may become entrapped.

The FDA has reported that more than 400 people have been killed by becoming trapped in bed rails since 1985 and several hundred more have been injured. The deaths and injuries have prompted the FDA to issue voluntary guidelines and suggestions to keep nursing home and hospital patients safe while they are in beds with bed rails. Part of the FDA's guidance has been to encourage health care teams to examine patient beds in order to determine if the pieces of the bed fit together correctly or whether there are any dangerous gaps which could lead to injuries and fatalities.

If you or a loved one is in a hospital or nursing home that uses bed side rails then be sure to do your own inspection as well and talk to your health care team about whether the side rails are necessary and safe because, after all, the goal is to leave the hospital or nursing home healthier than you were when you arrived.


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