Beds and Bedrails as a Source of Injuries in Nursing Homes

February 18, 2013, by The Lawrence Law Group

Of all the locations for injuries to occur in a nursing home or assisted living facility , a hospital bed would seem to be the safest place for patients to relax and recuperate. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that since 1986, 803 serious injuries were caused by hospital beds – 480 of which were fatal. Many times, injuries from hospital beds go unreported. With thirty nursing homes in the greater Jacksonville area alone, our area is not immune to these types of injuries.

Ironically, bed rails, which were originally designed to help prevent patients from falling out of bed, actually cause many injuries. Such injuries typically occur when a resident’s neck, head or chest gets caught within or underneath the rail and the patient becomes trapped. This usually happens because of gaps between the mattress and the bed rails. Some hospital beds no longer have the original bed rail and mattress combination and this can lead to gaps that are larger than what was intended.

It is important for all nursing homes and assisted living facilities ensure their beds have compatible mattresses, rails and other accessories so the bed functions safely as it should. It is the nursing home’s responsibility to make sure all equipment is maintained regularly and operating correctly. The hospital bed manufacturer or nursing home may be liable for injuries related to hospital beds.

Elderly and frail residents, especially those who are agitated, confused, in pain or have urinary problems, are at the highest risk for hospital bed injuries, because they are more likely to try to get out of bed on their own. If nursing home staff are slow to help residents, the problem can be compounded.

Bed rails can make some patients feel trapped and constrained and may actually result in residents trying to get out of bed. This is especially true for patients who really do not need to be restrained by bed rails.

In other situations, residents can be injured just trying to perform a routine activity, like reaching through or under handrails for a hairbrush or a glass of water from a side table. Again, the size of the gaps between the bedrail and mattress is extrememly important.

According to the Hospital Bed Safety Group (HBSG), bed rails should not always be used with every patient. In fact, the HBSG advises that with most nursing home patients, it is not necessary to have the bed rails raised. The medical staff should determine what is best for each patient based on his or her current situation and health history.

The HBSG recommends the following bed safety guidelines health care providers:
• Only use beds that can be raised and lowered.
• Make sure the wheels are locked and the bed is in a low position.
• If a person seems at risk of falling, place cushions or mats on the floor next to the bed.
• Always use the proper safety transfer equipment.
• Check on patients frequently, offering fluids and food, providing pain relief if needed, and maintaining a regular bathroom schedule.

When bed rails are used, HBSG makes these recommendations:
• Do not have all the bed rails raised at once. Keep one or more sections of the bed rail lowered.
• Make sure the mattress is the correct size for the bed frame.
• Look for gaps between the mattress and side rails and eliminate them.

Written by Elizabeth Allen

If you have questions about the legal rights of an elderly loved one in a nursing home or hospital, please feel free to contact our personal injury or medical malpractice attorneys in Jacksonville.