Public Citizen: Bed handles dangerous for elderly
May 4th, 2011
04:22 PM ET

Public Citizen: Bed handles dangerous for elderly

They are suppose to help elderly or sick patients maneuver in and out of bed, but the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen says some bed rail handles can be dangerous and have caused several deaths. The group says the handles can trap a patient causing strangulation or suffocation.

In a petition sent to the Food and Drug Administration Wednesday, Public Citizen urged the agency to order Bed Handles, Inc. to immediately recall Bedside Assistant bed handles, to ban marketing of the product and to investigate other bed handles manufactured by other companies to see if they pose a similar risk.

"Contrary to the manufacturer's claim that the Bedside Assistant bed handles make any bed a safer bed, data previously provided to the FDA demonstrate that these devices can turn a bed into a death trap for patients who are physically weak or have physical or mental impairments," said Dr. Michael Carome, deputy director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group.

The petition is asking for an immediate ban of model numbers BA10W and BA10W-6. The handles are generally used in homes and nursing facilities but not intended for hospital use according to the manufacturer.

Public Citizen claims the handles can slip out of place causing a gap between the mattress and the device that a patient can slip into. "Public Citizen's review of FDA records found that since 1999, four patients have died after getting trapped by Bedside Assistant bed handles. In three of these cases, it appears as though the patients were strangled or suffocated. In a fifth life-threatening incident, the bed rails trapped a hospital patient. Public Citizen believes that the number of people killed or injured by bed handles is higher; these incidents generally aren't reported because people don't realize bed handles are medical devices overseen by the FDA," Public Citizen said in a statement.

According to the Bed Handles, Inc. website, Bedside Assistant handles help patients sit, stand, rise and roll over and are "table in all directions and can be firmly pulled, pushed, lifted and leaned on."  Company president Bon Shaw is aware of 3 incidents involving the handles but says the information in Public Citizen's petition is incomplete, inaccurate and somewhat misleading.

"After we became aware that there was a second injury with our product, we added buckles and straps to all of our models of bed handles to ensure that when they were placed on the bed they were securely affixed to the bed,"  Shaw said. "Our concern was that not as much that the product can slip in use but that it was not being installed correctly and in either case our straps and buckles are engineered to hold the product securely against the mattress. These straps have been and are given free to all dealers, to all customers and have been for the past 2 years."

Shaw says there have been no reported problems since the addition of the buckles and straps and believes the problem has been eliminated.

FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson told CNN "FDA will review the petition from Public Citizen and respond directly to the organization."

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. nina786

    i've just knew that.....if bed handles dangerous so why is still using in hospital?


    May 5, 2011 at 07:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daisy

      This is not the kind of handle used in hospitals. Hospital beds are manufactured with permanently affixed rails that run the entire length of the bed, and raise and lower. The kind described in this article are not permanent and are put in place by the consumer.

      May 5, 2011 at 13:26 | Report abuse |
    • Ben Goff, attorney dallas

      These bed handles are completely different from those used in hospitals that are attached to the bed frame and do not present the same hazard.

      August 26, 2011 at 18:13 | Report abuse |
  2. Anonymous

    How many injuries/deaths from falls do these devices prevent? Do they allow disabled people to stay in their own homes? Nothing is ever perfectly safe and the benefits of these devices may well outweigh their risks. These devices made my father's last 5 years much easier for him and probably prevented many falls.

    May 5, 2011 at 08:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Steve

    Four deaths in twelve years. If the company has sold a hundred or more per year (and I'm sure they have sold many, many more) 0.33 deaths is statistically irrelevant. In fact, that number probably makes it one of the safest consumer products you can buy. Laundry detergent probably causes more deaths.

    This is a great example of over-zealous windmill-tilting by Public Citizen, most likely motivated by publicity, and nothing else.

    May 5, 2011 at 09:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dawn

      i use a bed handle it makes my life a lot better yes i know that there is always a danger but there is a bigger danger failing
      they really need to look at the case by case. if someone is getting trapped they should not live alone.

      May 5, 2011 at 11:13 | Report abuse |
    • Ben Goff, attorney dallas

      Bed handles are classified as health and safety devices and it is thought that the low number of reported deaths and injury to the FDA is relatively small is because doctors and hospitals are not aware that the FDA has jurisdiction over these devices. The number of reported incidents does not mean that these are the only injuries or deaths that they have caused and in fact the number is probably much larger.

      August 26, 2011 at 18:28 | Report abuse |
  4. dom625

    Public Citizen is one of the most unhelpful groups around. *Everything* in life comes with risks; the trick is to decide whether the benefits outweigh those risks. In this case, I would say that these rails assist far more people than they harm, so why should they be banned? Four deaths in over a decade is a grain of sand at the beach. More people have died from shark attacks and lightning strikes than from these rails!

    What ever happened to the days when people actually took responsibility for their own actions? When someone installed blinds and saw the blazing orange warning stickers, they either trimmed the cords or tied them up high out of reach. Now, we just recall them because of a potential hazard. If something broke, you accepted that nothing is meant to last forever and went on about your life. Now, we just recall it. Have you read the CPSC website lately? The recalls are ludicrous!

    May 5, 2011 at 10:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scot

      "I would say that these rails assist far more people than they harm, so why should they be banned?"

      They should be banned because there are other rails equally available that assist the same amount of people and do not pose the same risk of harm.

      *Everything* in life may come with risks, but when those risks have been eliminated through improved product design, shouldn't the fatally risky design be discontinued. How many unnecessary deaths should occur before changes are made.

      May 5, 2011 at 14:25 | Report abuse |
  5. Rodeoguy

    I bet This study was funded with tax payer dollars!

    May 5, 2011 at 12:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. JFWilder

    Darwin now kills with bed handles. If a person can't keep themselves from getting killed by a bed handle, then I can't imagine there's a real quality of life anyway. Do we really have to put warning signs on these now for those who can't "handle" it?

    May 5, 2011 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Alex

    Dangerous for the elderly, but could come in "handy" for those that are young and limber!

    May 5, 2011 at 18:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. cahark

    Bed-rails can help, but what I found to really help was to have a video camera on my dad during the nighttime; if he was restless, I knew to watch him and assist when necessary. Yes...it is time-intensive...and it does
    interrupt your sleep, but when your dad is gone, you will be glad that you provided this quality time and looked after him.

    May 5, 2011 at 19:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Derek

    The fact of the matter is... When people are dying, the problem needs to be addressed. I did my research and found several bed rails on the market that are entrapment proof. All it had was a pouch covering any possible areas of entrapment. Simple but genius!

    My research led me to the Bed Cane from Stander but there are many bed handles on the market that are zero entrapment. Just be sure to pick one that has coverage over possible areas of entrapment like pouches or covers.

    May 9, 2011 at 20:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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