WASHINGTON -- After 81-year-old Clara Marshall badly bruised herself in a tumble from her bed at a care facility in Vancouver, Wash., the staff urged her husband to buy a metal safety rail to protect her from another fall.
The device had only been attached to the side of Marshalls bed for about five weeks when she rolled over in March 2007 and her neck became stuck in the railing. Marshall, who suffered from dementia, suffocated and died.
Stunned by grief, Marshalls daughter, Gloria Black, at first assumed her mothers death was a freak accident.
For years before and after Marshalls death, thousands of frail, confused or elderly people have been injured and hundreds killed after becoming trapped in safety rails installed to keep them from falling out of bed.
The underlying belief on the part of everyone was you purchase one of these things and it makes you safer, Black said. Well, now Ive learned otherwise.
News accounts of such tragedies are infrequent, but a review of articles, court records and incident reports filed with federal or state agencies reveal some victims names and the disturbingly similar circumstances of their deaths:
Hospice patient Harry Griph Sr., 75, died in 2004 with his neck trapped between a mattress and a bedrail at an assisted living facility in Brookfield, Wis.
Mary Campbell, 82, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimers disease, was found suffocated to death, her neck pinned between a bedrail and a mattress in a Kansas City, Mo., nursing home in 1996.
Ouida Ethridge was 86 in 2009 when she asphyxiated, her head wedged between the side rails and air mattress on her bed at a rehabilitation center in Friendswood, Texas. In 2011, a nurse at a hospital in Allentown, Pa., found 88-year-old Donald Campbell strangled in bed, with his right shoulder and upper body between the mattress and the side rail. Records show he had been in a confused state.
Nanette Galbraith, an 84-year-old Alzheimers patient, died last year after her head became stuck between her hospital bed and a side rail at an adult care home in Wilmington, N.C.
The federal government has long known about the dangers of bedrails but has done little to enforce safety requirements.
That is amazing to me that you can have a product sold in a medical supply store and no one has verified is this safe, said Black, who now campaigns for mandatory safety standards for bedrails or preferably an outright ban.
Nationwide, nearly 37,000 people visited hospital emergency rooms and 155 people died because of injuries caused by adult portable bedrails between 2003 and 2012, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Most of the accidents occurred in private homes, nursing homes or assisted living facilities. More than 80 percent of the victims were over age 60.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received 901 reports of patients who became trapped, entangled or strangled in hospital bedrails since 1985, including 531 fatalities. Most were frail or mentally impaired.
Its a horrible, tragic, painful, scary way to die, and its just so unnecessary, said Steve Levin, a Chicago attorney who represents residents of long-term care facilities.Levin believes the number of fatal incidents and near-misses involving adult bedrails is underreported. Elderly victims might not have any family, or even if they do, their relatives may not know where to report the incident. And sometimes bedrail accidents are covered up by care facilities fearful of lawsuits or citations, he said.