According to a recent study in the New York Times, one of the dangers that are easily overlooked in a nursing home is actually there as a safeguard: bed rails. Although they seem harmless, they can increase the risk of residents being seriously injured or killed.

In addition to assisting residents with tasks like getting in or out of bed or pulling themselves up, bed rails also are intended to help prevent residents from rolling out of bed. However, the gap between the mattress and the bed rail is a hidden danger. Residents, especially those suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, can fall into the gap and become trapped, causing serious injuries. This gap can sometimes be fatal, if a trapped resident suffocates before being discovered by nursing home staff.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), bed rails cause a significant number of injuries in nursing homes. Between 2003 and May 2012, the administration's records showed that about 36,000 adults (averaging 4,000 per year) visited the emergency room because of an injury caused by bed rails. In addition, the records show that bed rails have been responsible for the deaths of 550 adults since 1995.

Federal regulations are absent

Nursing homes and federal regulators have known about the danger that bed rails pose for a long time, but, shockingly, have done very little to address it.

The danger was first brought to the attention of the FDA in 1995, according to the New York Times. The political mood in Congress and the federal government was hostile to the idea of increased regulation, at the time. As a result, the government instead issued a safety alert to nursing homes and home healthcare agencies. However, the FDA decided not to require warning labels on bed rails, which would have informed consumers of the possible dangers.

Even as the bed rail death toll continued to increase after the safety alert, the FDA continued to resist requiring warning labels, despite the requests of medical device makers, patient advocates and some officials within the administration. To this day, the FDA has not issued safety regulations for bed rails. However, in 2006, the FDA issued "voluntary guidelines" recommending the limits on the size of gaps and bed rail openings.

An attorney can help

The FDA's reluctance to address the dangers of bed rails is troubling, to say the least. However, the lack of formal regulations does not preclude other forms of legal recourse. If the bed rail is defective or unsafe, Illinois nursing home residents are entitled to seek compensation in a product liability lawsuit. In addition, if the resident was injured (or killed) by the nursing home's failure to properly supervise its residents, it could be held accountable under Illinois law in a nursing home negligence (or wrongful death) lawsuit.

If your loved one has suffered because of nursing home negligence or a defective bed rail, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to learn more about your right to compensation.

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