It was reported last year that President Obama had “offered an increase in the eligibility age for Medicare, from 65 to 67, in exchange for Republican movement on increasing tax revenues.” Last Sunday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) acknowledged on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, that “his Democratic colleagues in the House and Senate should be willing to address entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid in deficit reduction negotiations.” There’s no question that the health and safety of seniors is on the “fiscal cliff” table despite lots of opposition around the nation. Why not? They’re already falling off the cliff, or I should say, off the bed.
The New York Times has a front page story about the shocking number of sick elderly patients who are dying because of defective bed rails. Not only that, neither the Consumer Product Safety Commission nor the Food and Drug Administration can figure out who is supposed to regulate this industry. And thanks to its heavy lobbying, the bed rail industry has avoided any kind of regulation in this area except for “voluntary guidelines,” which, surprise surprise, don’t work.
Writes the Times,
Data compiled by the [Consumer Products Safety Commission] from death certificates and hospital emergency room visits from 2003 through May 2012 shows that 150 mostly older adults died after they became trapped in bed rails. Over nearly the same time period, 36,000 mostly older adults — about 4,000 a year — were treated in emergency rooms with bed rail injuries.Officials at the F.D.A. and the commission said the data probably understated the problem since bed rails are not always listed as a cause of death by nursing homes and coroners, or as a cause of injury by emergency room doctors.
Experts who have studied the deaths say they are avoidable. While the F.D.A. issued safety warnings about the devices in 1995, it shied away from requiring manufacturers to put safety labels on them because of industry resistance and because the mood in Congress then was for less regulation. Instead only “voluntary guidelines” were adopted in 2006. More warnings are needed, experts say, but there is a technical question over which regulator is responsible for some bed rails. Are they medical devices under the purview of the F.D.A., or are they consumer products regulated by the commission?
“This is an entirely preventable problem,” said Dr. Steven Miles, a professor at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota, who first alerted federal regulators to deaths involving bed rails in 1995. The government at the time declined to recall any bed rails and opted instead for a safety alert to nursing homes and home health care agencies.…
“As the elderly population increases we’re going to see more and more people cared for in their homes and assisted living facilities,” said Robert S. Adler, a commissioner with the consumer safety agency, who has made elderly safety a priority at the agency. “Bed rails are widely used in both of these settings and it’s something we need to get a handle on.”
So to speak.