About 113,000 adult portable handles for helping people get in and out of bed are being recalled following three deaths in institutional settings, one of them a 76-year-old woman who suffocated more than 12 years ago at an assisted-living facility in Edina.
Roughly seven years after a third reported death, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on Tuesday announced the recall of the devices made by Bed Handles Inc., of Blue Springs, Mo., that were manufactured before safety retention straps were added in 2007.
When attached to a bed without the strap, the handle can shift out of place, the CPSC explained. That creates a gap between the handle and the side of the mattress, posing “a serious risk of entrapment, strangulation and death,” the agency said in its announcement.
The death in Edina and the two others, all involving women, occurred when they became entrapped between the mattress and the handle, the CPSC said.
The other victims were a 41-year-old disabled woman, who died in 2005 at a Renton, Wash. adult family home; and an 81-year-old woman who died in 2007 in a Vancouver, Wash., managed-care facility.
Family identified the woman who died in Edina as Merle Rutter, saying she was found trapped in her bed on Feb. 4, 2002, at Sunrise of Edina on France Avenue. Medical staff found her “in-between the bed and the bed rail,” according to police. She was declared dead at the scene.
The Rutter family sued Bed Handles Inc. and settled in federal court for $40,000. The suit said that Rutter, suffering from late-stage Alzheimer’s, got caught and suffocated.
The family also sued Sunrise in state court and reached a $75,000 settlement, their attorney said.
“It was certainly an unnecessary death,” Rutter’s son, Terry, said Wednesday. “Maybe she would have lived another month or 10 years, who knows?”
Indirectly addressing the length of time between the deaths and the recall, CPSC spokeswoman Patty Davis said Wednesday, “We take reports of deaths with products under CPSC’s jurisdiction very seriously. … CPSC is focusing attention on adult bed rails and other safety issues impacting older adults.”
Asked whether he was surprised to hear about the recall so many years after the death of his mother and the others, Terry Rutter said, “You think? Yeah.”
Michelle Stone, Bed Handles’ office manager, said, “Our product was not being properly used and being installed incorrectly,” despite warning labels and detailed instructions.
Following the 2007 death, the company decided to add the straps and revise the instructions, Stone said. Bed Handles has been working with the CPSC for more than a year leading up to the recall, she added.
“Now none of our models go out without the straps,” Stone said.
The U.S.-made handles were sold from 1994 through 2007 before Bed Handles decided to add the straps. Recalled models include the Original Bedside Assistant (mode BA10W), the Travel Handles (BA11W), which is sold as a set of two, and the Adjustable Bedside Assistant (AJ1).
They were sold for about $100 by home health care stores, drugstores and medical equipment stores nationwide and in home and health care catalogs.
Any institution or private individual with one of the recalled handles should stop using the device and contact Bed Handles Inc. for free straps and installation instructions, the CPSC directed. The company can be contacted weekdays at 1-800-725-6903 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or online at http://bedhandles.com/recall.html.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482