#collegesafety | Should colleges do more to safeguard sleeping students? The family of a dead SDSU student thinks so

As Dylan Hernandez got settled in his dorm, the Florida freshman and family members busied themselves with buying books, picking classes and meeting other students.

Never once did they think of adding “safeguard Dylan’s bed” to their to-do list. And the family contends that they shouldn’t have had to. Instead, San Diego State University needs to do more to keep sleeping students safe, they say.

Hours after coming home very drunk from a fraternity party, Hernandez fell from his dorm’s upper bunk bed on Nov. 7, fractured his skull and later died.

The death raised serious questions about underage drinking and fraternity conduct, resulting in several university-wide policy changes announced Friday, to be adopted immediately.

Still, to the Hernandez family, no single issue was more concerning than bunk bed safety.

“My parents put faith in San Diego State University and the idea that these bunk beds were safe,” said Julia Hernandez, Dylan Hernandez’s sister. “We didn’t get any warnings about bed choices. We didn’t get any instructions. We didn’t hear of any accidents. Thousands of kids are sleeping in these beds every single year, so we put our faith in the school.”

Campus officials said Friday that there is “no indication that bunk and lofted beds at the University are unsafe” and stressed several safety features already in place. Professional maintenance personnel install rails on the top bunk of all lofted beds and bunk beds in all on-campus residences. These workers also inspect bunk beds at the start of each fall semester and during the winter break.

And while there have been two known bunk bed-related incidents at SDSU in the last five years, it’s unclear what happened in those cases since the students involved declined to speak to school officials, campus spokeswoman Cory Marshall said. She added the college doesn’t formally track bunk bed-related incidents.

But the Hernandez family argues the college’s efforts fall short of national standards specifically designed to make bunk beds safer.

“Dylan died of blunt force trauma,” Julia Hernandez said. “If he was on a … bunk bed that had higher railings or a bed that was lower, he would probably still be with us today.”

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission provides specific guidelines that manufacturers and importers of adult and child bunk beds must follow.

The requirements are lengthy. One says each bunk bed should have at least two guardrails if its bottom is more than 30 inches from the floor.

Another requires at least one rail to run continuously from end to end. The other rail doesn’t have to, but any opening between the guardrail and the end of the bed should be no more than 15 inches wide.

The top of each guardrail should be no less than 5 inches in height from the top of the mattress.

According to the university police department’s investigation into Hernandez’s death, the height of the guardrail on the side of the teen’s bed “only extended about 3 to 4 inches above the mattress.” It’s unclear if Hernandez was using a mattress topper, which would have shortened the distance between the bed and the top of the railing.

Hernandez’s bed didn’t adhere to other commission guidelines either — there is no second guardrail, for example.

But college officials said they aren’t required to adhere to the national standard. They also say they are already going above and beyond federal law as it applies to colleges by attaching a railing to all upper bunks.

Bed safety activists said the university is right. The government regulation “applies to all bunk beds, except those manufactured only for institutional use …” Institutional bunk beds include those used in military barracks, jails and on colleges campuses, said Mariellen Jacobs, who founded Rail Against The Danger, an advocacy group working to make university bunk beds safer.

Jacobs formed the nonprofit with her son, Clark Jacobs, after he fell from his loft bed in a Georgia Institute of Technology fraternity house. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, a stroke and spent months in a coma. His injuries required emergency surgeries and months of rehabilitation. Although he has made a remarkable recovery, his mom said, he will likely suffer repercussions for the rest of his life.

After the accident, Jacobs started doing some research on bunk bed-related injuries. The numbers she found were startling, she said.

According to a 2008 study conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy based at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, about 35,800 people 21 years old and younger suffered bunk bed-related injuries annually from 1990 to 2005.

Most injuries happened at home, but they were also suffered at public properties like recreational facilities and schools, the study said. About half of the injuries that occurred at schools involved young adults aged 18 to 21 years.

Falls were the most common cause of injury, and alcohol was involved in less than 1 percent of all cases. All alcohol-related injuries were suffered in falls, however.

Overall, young adults from 18 to 21 years old suffered double the number of injuries as other teens.

A similar study published in the Injury Prevention journal in 2018 found about 71,000 people suffered bunk bed-related injuries annually from 2006 to 2015.

The study found about 1.3 percent of injuries happened at schools, and those victims were generally older — around 18 years old. The on-campus incidents also involved alcohol more often than in other cases.

“Appropriate education directed at both educational institutions and students, as well as proper bunk bed equipment, are avenues to reduce these injuries,” the 2018 study read.

Both studies used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which collects information from emergency room visits. It does not include individuals who did not go to the hospital or who died before they could be taken to a hospital.

Tracy Mehan, manager of the Translational Research Team at the Center for Injury Research and Policy, said her organization turned to education after analyzing the results of the 2008 study.

“I just don’t think families realize the potential risks,” she said. “And if people aren’t aware of the fact that (bunk beds) can be a risk, then maybe the field needs to do a better job of getting that knowledge out there.”

Jacobs, the Rail Against The Danger founder, ultimately persuaded all schools within the University System of Georgia to include safety rails on all lofted and upper-bunk beds. But she says sweeping change likely won’t be achieved until national regulations are created for school beds.

Mehan agreed.

“If we continue to see this level of injury, we may need to look at the standards again, because we might not be doing a good enough job,” she said.

It’s something that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission may eventually tackle in new regulations.

“While not scheduled in the agency’s current operating plan, we are very much aware of the issue (of falls from college bunk beds) and will be looking into it,” said Patty Davis, the agency’s deputy director of communications.

Although institutions can’t be penalized for failing to adhere to the consumer commission’s bunk bed regulations, organizations can still be sued for negligence and other failings in court.

In 2017, Lindenwood University and Javid Hashimzade, a student, reached an undisclosed settlement after Hashimzade fell from the top bunk of a bed provided by the Missouri school.

Late last year, a Pomona jury awarded a 29-year-old $3.5 million after he fractured his neck in a fall from a top bunk at a rehabilitation center.

Both of those cases involved bunk beds that had no railings.

The Hernandez family has not filed a lawsuit in connection with the death, but they have hired a lawyer.


Source link