Protecting Nursing Staff With Patient Handling Programs May 26 2016

One of the top claims in the medical industry is serious musculoskeletal injuries and lower back pain among nursing aids. The main cause for workers compensation is from caregivers’ or nursing aids that have to lift and transfer residents. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2011 hospitals had an incident rate of 6.8 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses per 100 full time workers, compared to 3.5 per 100 in all U.S. industries combined. The estimated costs in 2011, which were associated with work-related overexertion was $14.2 Billion. (1) The nursing staff or caregivers’ that suffer from these injuries have to stop working and can develop issues with doing daily living tasks because of the back injuries, arm injury, or shoulder injury.

For example, Sunny Vespico 36 year old, registered nurse working at the Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia on March 31, 2012 moved a large patient who was having trouble breathing to a special bed. She stated that she immediately felt a pop in her back and pain down her leg. After she had a MRI it confirmed that she had herniated one of her discs. (4)


Photo Credit: NPR & Spine Research Institute at The Ohio State University

Studies by university and government researchers show that the traditional way hospitals and nursing schools teach staff to move patients “bend your knees and keep your back straight” is dangerous. (2) According to William Marras, the director of The Ohio State University’s Spine Research Institute states “The bottom line is, there’s no safe way to lift a patient manually”(2)

Safe Patient Handling Programs

Hospitals need to think about protecting their employees and with obesity continuing to rise U.S. hospitals have to be able to accommodate larger patients in order to keep both workers and patient’s safe. Implementing a safe patient handling program can increase effectiveness and reduce costs; this can include implementing permanent or portable lifts, transfer sheets, and conducting training.

Even though the there is a significant cost to purchasing this type of equipment, the long run benefits can overcome the initial cost.

Benefits of Mechanical Equipment

  • Reduces Injuries
  • Decreases time and workers compensation claims
  • Increase productivity
  • Higher quality of work life and worker satisfaction
  • Increate patient care and satisfaction
  • Reduce staff turnover

However, only some hospitals have purchased powered ceiling hoists and have conducted staff training due being preoccupied with other issues. The hospitals that do implement the patient handling program have seen positive results. For example, The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, 725-bed medical center was able to reduce its workers’ compensation costs by more than $475,000 and was able to recover the cost of implementing the program within three years. (1) The Sacred Heart Medical center also implemented a patient handling plan and their  “…432-bed tertiary care facility in Oregon, saved $305,000 over a two-year period and reported that “the lifts actually paid for themselves in 15 months.””(1)

Would A Toilet Aid Help With Reducing Lifts?

Depending on the patient’s dependency status a personal hygiene aid and toilet aid could also help patients with reducing lifts in the bathroom. It would help patient’s feel less embarrassed and more independent with their toileting and grooming. For example, if a patient can get out of bed, walk to the bathroom, but can't bend or twist instead lifting them and placing a bed pan under them let them keep their dignity and independence with personal hygiene by providing them an aid that will help wipe, bathe, or shave. 

Establishing A Culture Change

Implementing and maintaining a patient handling program will require a culture change throughout the hospital. However, changing people's mind-set on how things can be done differently is the greatest challenge.