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The Food and Drug Administration recently issued guidelines to try to end a little-known but not uncommon cause of death of nursing home residents and hospital patients, bedrail entrapment.
Bedrails are supposed to be helpful to patients who use them to position themselves in bed and to keep patients from rolling out of bed. Unfortunately, sometimes patients who are frail, elderly, on mind altering medications, or suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, can become entrapped between a bedrail and the bed mattress, leading to serious injury and even death by asphyxiation. Approximately 350 such deaths have been reported to the FDA since 1995 with 35 deaths being reported in the last year and a half. Federal officials say they believe these are just a fraction of the actual number of injuries and deaths because many nursing homes and hospitals don’t know they are supposed to report such incidents. Others don’t report them because they are afraid of legal liability or don’t want the bad publicity that might result.
The FDA believes these incidents are largely preventable. Gaps bewteen the mattress and bedframe and bedrail must be eliminated with positional devices, repositioning of the mattress or in anothe safe manner. The mattress must be fit tightly against the the bedframe and bedrail to avoid dangerous gaps that trap and injure patients. The new FDA guidelines issued in March, provide instructions to nursing homes and hospitals on how to make complex calculations to check that beds are properly assembled and there are no entrapment dangers.
Colling Gilbert Wright & Carter have handle bedrail entrapment cases in the past and are experienced at litigating these cases.