Release Date: 7/19/2010
Investment in safe patient handling equipment pays off
Jamie Gould, rehabilitation technician, and Donna Grady, R.N., secure patient Daniel Kuehnel into a Maxi Move, as they transfer him from wheelchair to bed in the Acute Rehab unit of St. Anthony’s Medical Center.
Three years ago, St. Anthony’s Medical Center committed $900,000 to a program designed to reduce the risk of injury to its caregivers due to patient movement. That investment has resulted in fewer and less severe injuries to employees, fewer lost work days due to injuries and increased patient safety and satisfaction.
Caregiver injuries due to patient handling totaled a mere 13 during the past fiscal year, said Lisa Holzem, St. Anthony’s Workers’ Compensation coordinator. “When you think about all of the patient handling that goes on in just one hour, only 13 injuries in an entire year is amazing.”
That number is down from 54 caregiver injuries in FY 2006, the year before St. Anthony’s implemented the ARJO Diligent Injury Prevention Program. The program includes some 65 pieces of safe patient handling equipment and a three-year educational component for the 2,300 employees trained in their use.
“St. Anthony’s is the only hospital in the region that is using this system hospital-wide,” Holzem said. “It’s a complete culture change for our nurses, who were used to manually transferring patients who were sick, injured, medicated and sometimes larger than the nurse. Back and shoulder injuries were common and too many nurses had their careers cut short by injuries.”
Now they use a Maxi Move, featuring a sturdy sling that carefully lifts the patient from bed to chair and back at the touch of a button, or a SARA Plus, which allows patients to rise from a chair to a standing position with support.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the greatest number of non-fatal occupational injuries and illnesses occur in general medical and surgical hospitals. Healthcare workers experienced more than 260,000 such injuries in 2007 (the latest available statistics).
Thousands of nurses across the country each year suffer debilitating – and often career-ending – injuries from lifting, transferring and repositioning patients. Back injuries affect up to 38 percent of all nurses, and musculoskeletal disorders are responsible for more lost work time, prolonged medical care and permanent disability among health care workers than any other work-related injury or illness. As the nursing workforce ages – the average age of today’s nurse is 50 years old – patients are not becoming lighter in weight or less debilitated.
Toni Dafnides, R.N., clinical safety manager in St. Anthony’s Acute Rehab, remembers all too well the consequences of 27 years of nursing in rehabilitation units. “I hurt my back badly enough to be off work three different times,” Dafnides said. “It is especially easy to hurt your back when caring for a spinal cord patient, because you are providing a total assist when transferring.”
Dafnides, who joined the medical center staff three-and-one-half years ago, said she was thrilled to find that St. Anthony’s had invested in the safe patient handling equipment. “This was the first hospital to have this equipment, and we use every piece, every day,” she said. “Where it used to require five nurses to transfer a patient, we now can do it with one or two. It is easy to use and it helps the staff by preventing back injuries, pulled muscles and strains.”
But caregivers are not the only ones benefiting from the use of this assistive equipment; patients experience increased safety, comfort and dignity, Holzem said.
“When you secure a patient in a sling that fits them comfortably and subtract the possibility of human error in the transfer process, you are providing a better, safer experience for that patient,” she said. “Family members also feel more comfortable, seeing that their loved ones are not being manhandled. Some even ask if they can buy the equipment to use at home.”
Daniel Kuehnel, 53, a Caseyville, Ill., resident, was undergoing therapy in St. Anthony’s Acute Rehab after recent spinal surgery. A nurse and a rehab tech positioned him into the Maxi Mover and effortlessly lifted him from his wheelchair to his bed. “Moving from one place to another can be really painful,” Kuehnel said. “But this thing is pretty smooth and I’m comfortable transferring with it. I give it a 99.9,” he added with a grin.
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