woman holding bed railYou may notice rails on the side of the bed when you visit someone in a nursing home. These bed rails are supposed to prevent sick, injured, or agitated patients from falling out of bed. Unfortunately, bed rails also pose significant safety risks, and nursing home residents may suffer significant or deadly injuries from bed rail accidents.

Bed Rail Benefits and Risks

Bed rails are often used to provide a nursing home resident with:

  • Help to reposition in bed
  • Help to get into or out of bed
  • A feeling of comfort and security
  • Protection from falling out of bed while being transported in the bed
  • Easy access to personal care items and bed controls

Unfortunately, bed rails that don’t meet industry guidelines or that are not used with proper supervision may cause a nursing home resident to suffer:

  • Bruising, scrapes, or cuts
  • Feelings of isolation or restriction
  • Agitation from a feeling of being restrained
  • Loss of independence when they can’t perform everyday activities such as getting something from across the room or getting to the bathroom
  • Fall injuries if they try to climb over the rails
  • Strangulation, suffocation, or another serious injury when body parts get caught between the rails or between the rails and the bed frame or mattress.

Entrapment is one of the most serious risks faced by nursing home residents who have guard rails on their beds.

Bed Rail Entrapment Risks

The way the bed rail meets the bed frame and mattress creates a bed system design that allows gaps. A nursing home resident’s body parts can become trapped in those gaps.

Entrapment can occur when a patient tries to move around in the bed or get out of bed without assistance, perhaps because of pain, confusion, delirium, or agitation. Patients who are frail, confused, restless, or have uncontrollable body movements are most vulnerable to becoming entrapped. 

Zones of Entrapment

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration designated the most likely “zones of entrapment” as follows:

  • Zone 1. Within (between) the bars of the rails: A person’s head or another part of the body gets stuck between the bars of the side rail. Although the space should be small enough to keep the head from fitting, the size of the space may change if the bar or rail becomes loose or damaged.
  • Zone 2. Under the bottom rail: The gap between the mattress, which is compressed from the patient’s weight, and the bottom rail between rail supports or next to a single rail support is another danger zone.
  • Zone 3. Between the rail and mattress: If the space between the inside of the rail and the mattress is too big, the patient’s head may become stuck.
  • Zone 4. Under the rail, at the end of the rail: A person’s neck may become wedged between the mattress and the lowest part of the rail.
  • Zone 5. Between split rails: Separate head and foot side rails on the same side of the bed can present a danger if the patient tries to get out of the bed at this point. The neck or chest can get trapped between the two rails. Any V-shaped opening between rails presents a potential risk of being wedged.
  • Zone 6. Between the end of the rail and the side edge of the head or footboard: A patient may become entrapped in the space between the end of the side rail and the edge of the head or footboard.
  • Zone 7. Between the head or footboard and the end of the mattress: A gap between the head or footboard and the end of the mattress creates a risk of head entrapment if the mattress shifts or is compressed or if the head or footboard is loose and wobbly. 

FDA Bed Rail Recommendations

The FDA maintains that many nursing home residents don’t need bed rails. Instead, the safety needs of residents usually can be met with individualized risk assessments, frequent monitoring, and other tools. If bed rails are used, the FDA recommends that nursing home staff:

  • Conduct ongoing assessments of the resident’s physical and mental health
  • Closely monitor residents at high risk for injury
  • Lower sections of the bed rail, such as the foot rail
  • Use the right size mattress or a mattress with raised foam edges to prevent entrapment between the mattress and rail
  • Reduce any gaps between the mattress and side rails.

How Nursing Home Negligence Can Cause Bed Rail Injuries

Nursing home residents may be hurt any time nursing home staff fail to use reasonable care. Severe or fatal bed rail injuries can occur if the nursing home fails to:

  • Assess the resident’s need for bed rails. Bed rails should not be used as restraints. Instead, bed rails should only be used if the likely benefits of bed rails outweigh the possible dangers.
  • Monitor the resident. Residents with bed rails should be monitored closely so that any possible entrapment can be caught before it results in a severe or fatal injury.
  • Train nursing home staff. Nursing home staff should receive training in (1) bed rail installation; (2) identifying potential problems with bed rails after installation; (3) how often to monitor residents with bed rails; and (4) what to do if entrapment or another type of bed rail injury occurs.
  • Use bed rails appropriately. Bed rails should not be used as restraints or for the convenience of the staff.

A careful investigation can determine if nursing home negligence caused your loved one’s bed rail entrapment injury.

Protect Your Loved One’s Rights After a Nursing Home Bed Rail Injury

You have a limited amount of time to take action after a nursing home injury or death. Our experienced Kentucky nursing home injury lawyers are here to help you protect your rights. We will conduct a complete investigation to find out why your loved one was hurt or killed, and we will advise you of your legal rights so that you can decide what to do next. If you decide to pursue legal action, we will fight for your fair recovery of medical expenses, pain, suffering, and other damages. Contact us today to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation.

Matthew L. White
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Founder & Partner of Louisville Personal Injury Law Firm Gray & White Law