Death of Student's Mother Raises Bed Rail Issue

The University has ordered 800 bed rails to meet anticipated demand after a student’s mother died following a fall from a lofted campus bed while staying in her daughter’s room just before the start of the semester.

By mid-September, more than 300 students had requested the rails, 10 times the usual number.

Larry Hicks, director of UNC’s Department of Housing and Residential Education, said the department is accommodating the bed rail requests and also trying to decide whether a new policy is needed.

“I think our ultimate goal would be to provide a rail with every bed,” Hicks said. He anticipates the department will decide by the end of the semester whether the policy will be changed.

Nash County resident Donna Sykes, 49, was staying in the Kenan dorm room with her daughter, Jesse, during the move-in period. Jesse Sykes had transferred from Nash Community College; she has cerebral palsy, and her mother was helping her become acclimated, family members said.

After the fall on Aug. 19, Donna Sykes was on life support with head injuries; the support was removed the next day.

Most campus beds come with two additional posts along with a stabilizer bar in case students want to create a loft by stacking their beds. Students typically create lofts with their beds to gain additional space.The bed posts the University provides have notches every three inches, so a bed could be as low as three inches off the ground or as high as 72 inches. At the highest setting, a student on a mattress would be just more than six feet above the floor.

Options range from including a rail with every bed, making rails mandatory or requiring students to sign a liability waiver.

“If we need to mandate railings, we need to make sure we have enough there,” Hicks said. He said stocking the roughly 8,500 beds on campus with a $30 rail, plus shipping, would cost about $260,000.

The housing department contacted students who live on campus on Sept. 10 to notify them that bed rails were available. Within three days, 200 students had asked for rails.

Hicks said there have been no other instances at the University of someone dying after a fall from a bed, although there have been some injuries.

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