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Trapped! MN Doctor on the Dangers of Bed Rails

PHOTO: Dr. Steven Miles.
PHOTO: Dr. Steven Miles.
December 27, 2012

ST. PAUL, Minn. - More than 150 people have been killed and thousands have been severely injured in the past decade when they become 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."

Such situations are entirely preventable, Miles says, adding that 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. Miles says the issue is compounded by the components of the typical elderly-patient bed.

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

About 550 bed-rail deaths have occurred since Miles first alerted federal regulators to the problem in 1995. With the growing population of elderly Americans, he says, the problem will continue to grow unless more stringent safety standards are enforced.

More information is online at fda.gov.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN