Woman Dies After Neck Trapped Between Mattress and Bed Rail

By ThinkReliability Staff

On January 26, 2013, a nursing home resident died of positional asphyxiation after her neck became trapped between her bed’s mattress and a bed rail.  The nursing home was cited for neglect by the state for not evaluating whether or not the use of a bed rail is appropriate.

The cause-and-effect relationships that led to the resident’s death can be diagrammed in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis.  This allows all the issues related to the incident to be examined so that as many potential solutions as possible can be considered, increasing healthcare reliability.

The first step in the Cause Mapping method is to capture the what, when, and where of the incident, as well as the impacts to the organization’s goals.  A nursing home’s goals include ensuring residents’ safety,  employees’ safety, residents’ quality of life, and compliance with regulatory and other accrediting agencies.  In this case, the resident safety goal was impacted because of the resident death.  The resident quality of life was impacted because there was no assessment performed to ensure the use of bed rails was appropriate.  Because that assessment was not performed, the facility was fined by the state Health Department.  Additionally, the compliance goal was impacted because both the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and The Joint Commission prohibit the use of bed rails when used as restraints.  CMS also will not reimburse for treatment for injuries related to the use of bed rails.

Beginning with an impacted goal, asking “Why” questions aids in developing the cause-and-effect relationships that resulted in the impact to the goal.  In this case, the resident death was caused by positional asphyxiation because the resident’s neck was caught between her bed rail and mattress.  The asphyxiation also resulted from the resident not being found immediately.  In this case, there were forty minutes between the last nursing check and when the resident was discovered.

The resident’s neck was caught because she was unable to free herself due to limited mobility and dementia and the use of bed rails.  In this case, as previously noted, an assessment to determine whether the use of the bed rail was appropriate had not been performed.   Presumably the bed rail was used because of the resident’s history of falls. Despite research that the risks outweigh the benefits when using bed rails as restraints (as opposed to mobility aids for residents who are cognitively and physically able), the FDA has stopped short of requiring a safety label on bed rails.

The nursing home involved in this incident has provided an approved plan to reduce the risks of this type of incident recurring.  Beyond that particular facility, states Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger,  “As a result of this death, we want all health settings where bed rails are used to take immediate steps to make sure they are following the correct guidelines around bed rails, grab bars and other devices.”

To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more about the use of bed rails and associated risks.