Lightening Nurses’ Load

Alexander Raths – Fotolia.com

A nurse will typically lift 1.8 tons in the course of a normal day, according to this article in USA Today. Not a day as the guest star in the circus freak show — just a regular, ordinary, eight-hour day at the hospital.

As a result, nurses have suffered back injuries and have even wound up in the hospital themselves. Back injuries to health-workers cost billions of dollars per year, and 62% of nurses consider disabling injuries from lifting a top concern. 80% of nurses say that muscle and joint pain is a frequent occurrence. 75% say that they experience some sort of physical pain from a muscle sprain or strain that occurred at work. And back injuries are a primary reason that nurses give for leaving the profession.

Boosting patients in bed, turning them, assisting them to the restroom; it all adds up, especially when the patients are obese.

Nearly two-thirds of the people admitted to Baptist in the past two years weighed 200 to 299 pounds. About 2,200 patients weighed 300 to 499 pounds.

A few years ago, a nursing team faced with a heavy patient would have assembled three or four staff members for a group heave. Today, they wheel in a portable lift. Baptist has invested in portable lift devices that can handle up to 600 pounds and has one on order with a 1,000-pound capacity.

One nurse at Baptist wound up having to undergo three surgeries for a neck injury, torn rotator cuff and carpal tunnel issue. So, almost three years ago, Baptist launched a pilot project to prevent these injuries.

The campaign began in the unit where Mary Ann Baylor is nurse manager. It relied on three key components: equipment, training and awareness.

“We have not had any injuries since our pilot,” Baylor said. “It’s really a team project. We buddy up so that whenever we are using the lift, the chance of injury is nil. You can’t afford to have everybody out sick.”

The buddy approach — matching up a new user with someone skilled at using the lift devices — boosted compliance. Baptist wound up reducing its patient handling injuries by more than 74 percent from 2008 to 2011.

Only 10 states — California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington — have adopted laws or regulations that require health-care institutions to have patient-handling requirements to protect nursing staffs, according to the American Nurses Association. Hawaii’s legislature has adopted a resolution in favor of it.

“Manual patient handling is unsafe and directly responsible for musculoskeletal disorders suffered by nurses,” said Jemarion Jones, a spokesman for the national organization. “Patient handling can be performed safely with the use of assistive equipment.”

The portable devices can pick up patients weighing up to 400 pounds while ceiling-mounted lifts can pick up more.

Besides preventing back injuries for hospital staff, the devices lessen the likelihood of patient injuries and give caregivers greater options for moving patients around to prevent bedsores.

To accommodate the increasingly obese patient population, hospitals also have had to invest in braces for toilets, bariatric bedside commodes and chairs designed to bear extra weight.
“You can have someone who is complete total care that is 500 to 600 pounds,” Baylor said.

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