Bed rails, which are metal bars placed around a bed, are designed to prevent falls. Typically found in homes, hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities, bed rails provide many benefits to users. However, they may also pose several health and safety risks.
In addition to fall prevention, bed rails make it easier for a patient to move around in bed and reposition themselves. Bed rails aid in a patient’s transitions in and out of bed, giving them a greater sense of independence, as a patient will not be reliant on nursing home staff for assistance. Additionally, many bed rails contain side pockets which allow the patient easier access to personal items and bed controls. Perhaps most importantly, bed rails help a patient feel safe and secure as they sleep and rest in bed.
Bed rails are recommended to patients who are generally weak, have poor balance, face difficulty moving around, and are prone to falling out of bed. They are a safer, more efficient, and less expensive alternative to bed restraints.
While bed rails are of great help to most users, they can also prove to be harmful. On some occasions, a patient may become entangled within the bars of the bed rail or stuck between the mattress and the bed rail. A user may also attempt to climb out of bed over the rails, leading to a dangerous fall. These accidents can cause bruising, cuts, scrapes, other bodily injuries, and even death. Between 1985 and January 2009, there were 803 incidents of bed rail accidents reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These incidents lead to 480 deaths and 138 nonfatal injuries. Not all incidents were reported to the FDA– there were 37,000 individuals brought to a hospital emergency room as a result of bed rail injury between 2003 and 2011 alone. In addition to causing physical injury, bed rails may also be psychologically detrimental if a patient feels isolated or needlessly restricted.
Bed rails must be used carefully. Upon entering a healthcare facility, a patient should be assessed to determine their compatibility with bed rails. The elderly and those with mental or physical limitations must be frequently monitored to ensure their safety. In order to prevent unnecessary and potentially unsafe exits from the bed, it is imperative that a patient’s healthcare team determines and meets the patient’s present and future needs regarding thirst, hunger, restlessness, pain, and bathroom use. It may also be helpful to lower the portion of the bed rail located at the foot of the bed so that in the case that the patient wants to leave, they can do so safely as opposed to climbing over the rail.
To make sure that the patient does not become trapped between the mattress and the bed frame, the healthcare facility should use mattresses fitted to the bed rail. Most importantly, a patient’s healthcare team should check in frequently, asking the patient if he or she needs anything and ensuring that they are comfortable in bed.
It is essential that a patient’s healthcare team talk to the patient and the patient’s family to make sure that the use of a bed rail is the right choice. In some situations, the risks associated with the use of a bed rail outweigh the benefits. However, in other cases, this scenario is reversed. If it is determined that bed rail use is the best course of action, then the patient’s need for a bed rail should be reassessed regularly.
If you or a loved one has been injured or has died from an accident involving a bed rail or lack thereof, you can reach the experienced New York nursing home abuse and elderly neglect attorneys at Hach & Rose, LLP at (212) 779-0057 for a free case consultation.