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Thousands hurt annually by adult bedrails, many in nursing homes

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, nearly 37,000 people sought emergency medical treatment between 2003 and 2012 after being injured by adult portable bedrails, and 155 died. Most of these accidents occurred in private homes or in nursing facilities.

The Food and Drug Administration is also well aware of the issue. Since 1985, the FDA has received 901 reports of entrapment and strangulation by hospital bedrails, including 531 deaths. Moreover, while rails used in children’s beds are required to meet safety standards, bedrails for adults are subject only to voluntary regulation.

“The underlying belief on the part of everyone was you purchase one of these things and it makes you safer,” said a woman who lost her mother to a bedrail accident in 2007. “Well, now I’ve learned otherwise.”

According to McClatchy, when the 81-year-old was injured falling from her bed at a care facility, the staff urged her family to pay for the installation of a metal bedrail. About five weeks later, her neck became stuck in that bedrail and she suffocated.

Yet the FDA to issued a safety alert in 1995 and, when the accidents continued it put together a group composed of government officials and healthcare and manufacturing representatives to solve the problem. In 2006, that group issued a completely nonbinding set of advisory guidelines that didn’t even require warning labels.

Earlier this year, consumer and patient advocacy groups petitioned the government to impose mandatory safety standards on adult bedrails -- or to ban some types altogether. The CPSC and the FDA agreed to work with the nonprofit safety agency ASTM International to develop comprehensive manufacturing and operation safety protections for adult bedrails. The standards, however, will remain voluntary.

The woman who lost her mother in 2007 is on the committee to develop those standards, and the first draft may be complete by the end of this month, although a final version won’t be out for another year or so.

Nursing homes and care facilities still consider bedrails a good option for preventing patient falls, if used correctly -- but that appears to be challenging.

“It’s a horrible, tragic, painful, scary way to die, and it’s just so unnecessary,” said an attorney quoted in the story.

Source: McClatchy Washington Bureau, "As feds ponder solutions, bedrails pose deadly hazard to frail, elderly, mentally impaired," Lindsay Wise, Oct. 8, 2013

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