Seniors who need the monitoring and care that nursing homes provide often find themselves in a setting that is a mixture between a college dorm room and a hospital. While modern nursing homes have tried to escape the stereotype of the “medicinal” and impersonal institution by providing residents with homelike surroundings, this isn’t always possible, particularly for those who have ambulatory problems. So, in most nursing homes, beds come equipped with rails–removable or permanent–intended to keep seniors safe from injury during the night. Unfortunately, while bed rails may seem like a good idea, in reality, they often create more injuries than they protect from.
Bed Rails Do Cause Injuries
Seniors who have a tendency to fall out of bed or those who don’t realize they leave the bed through the night benefit from a bed that is equipped with rails. Bed rails also serve to help those who need support when getting out of bed. However, statistics show that bed rails can result in injury or death.
In fact, between 1985 and 2013, more than 900 bed rail incidents have been reported, including 531 deaths due to suffocation or cardio-respiratory distress. Many of these events would have been preventable with more knowledge on the proper usage of bed rail systems and when they are inappropriate to use altogether.
How Side Rail Injuries Occur
Although bed rails are used to reduce the risk of falls, they don’t keep falls from happening. Seniors often experience worse injury from falls that occur when they try to climb over the bed rails to go to the bathroom. The majority of bed rail injuries, of course, occur when people get stuck in the space between the mattress and the bed rail. This happens with seniors who are too weak or are otherwise unable to maneuver out of the space once they fall. Portable bed rails–those that can be used on any bed, are particularly dangerous because they don’t always fit properly.
Attempts To Make Bed Rail Use Safe
Taking a cue from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, who required companies to follow strict rules when using bed rails for children, the FDA came up with voluntary guidelines for the use of bed rails in hospitals and nursing homes. The guidelines were released in 2006, and within a five-year period, entrapment reports were halved, from 85 in 2005 to only 40 in 2010.
Institutions that decide to utilize bed rails are required to refrain from the use of bed rails as restraints, as has often be done in the past. Bed rails that are the full length of the bed on two sides are not approved for use by Medicaid or Medicare, and injuries that occur as a result of such use are not covered under their policies. Many nursing homes, however, still use this system as a way to “deal” with seniors whom they don’t know how to monitor otherwise.
Using Rails Safely
If you have a senior living in a nursing home, chances are you have witnessed the use of bed rails in one form or another. By knowing what to look for, you will recognize the difference between the proper and improper use of bed rails. You will also be able to tell if the rails on your loved one’s bed are being safely utilized.
Consider the following before approving the use of bed rails for your senior family member:
- Does he really need bed rails? If he is mobile and doesn’t have sleep issues but needs the support of a bed rail, consider using support rails, shorter versions of the longer bed rails used by most institutions.
- Do the bed rails fit the bed properly? Are there gaps or areas that don’t look right? Ask for them to be replaced, or request the use of fillers, which can be ordered online, to make up for the difference in size between the mattress and the rail.
- Are bed rails being used incorrectly? Are they being used as convenience measures for the staff rather than as safety measures? Alert the administrator of the problem or call your local advocate to deal with the issue.
It is possible that your loved one could be facing a form of abuse through the incorrect usage of bed rails. If this is happening a knowledgeable nursing home attorney can help you navigate getting justice for this form of abuse.