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What You May Not Know About Bed Rails

Photo: Steven Miles, MD

Photo: Steven Miles, MD


December 24, 2012

ST. PAUL, Minn. - In the past decade, more than 150 people have been killed and thousands have been severely injured when they became trapped in side rails used to prevent them from rolling out of bed. Dr. Steven Miles at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota says the government has been aware of the problem for more than a decade.

"A minimum of 36,000 persons have been transported to emergency rooms for injuries caused when limbs or their head gets stuck in a rail, but they don't die. In some cases, those lead to fractures or other soft-tissue injuries."

Miles says this is an entirely preventable problem. He says part of the problem is that the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Food and Drug Administration are arguing about which of them has authority to recommend changes to the companies that make bed rails.

The issue is compounded by the components of the typical elderly patient bed, he explains.

"The problem is that the mattress lasts about 3 years, the rails last about 7 years, and the bed lasts about 15 years. So, during the life of these products, they're constantly being mixed and matched, with different mattresses being put on the bed, and so forth."

Since Miles first alerted federal regulators to the problem in 1995, about 550 bed-rail deaths have occurred. He says the manufacturers have not been emphasizing getting a safe product to the consumer.

"The emphasis has been on 'buyer beware.' And the question of whether the FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission are going to shift from 'buyer beware' to get a safe product to the end users is exactly where the regulatory fight is right now."

Miles points out that with the growing population of elderly Americans, the problem will continue to grow, unless more stringent safety standards are enforced.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI