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Hospitals consider better patient handling equipment


June 29, 2017

Costs cited as a mitigating factor when it comes to installing new lifts

It’s no secret that America’s healthcare workers are in danger of injuries sustained from improperly lifting and moving hospital patients. Just ask OSHA.

According to the agency’s statistics, worker injuries from slips, trips, and falls are one of the country’s biggest concerns, especially in hospitals. Injury and illness rates in healthcare, at 5.2 cases for every 100 workers, remain well above the national average of 3.5 cases per 100.

In 2011, U.S. hospitals recorded 253,700 work-related injuries and illnesses—that’s a rate of 6.8 work-related injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time employees, almost twice as much as for private industry in general.

NIOSH reports that there are 75 lifting-related injuries per year for every 10,000 full-time hospital workers, and 107 injuries annually for every 10,000 workers at nursing homes and residential facilities. Hospital rates are nearly twice the national average for all industries, and nursing home rates are nearly three times as high. The problem has gotten so bad that OSHA created an entire website devoted to the problem of lifting injuries in hospitals and solutions that hospitals can employ, including training tips and advice (www.osha.gov/dsg/hospitals).

“Reducing injuries not only helps workers, but also will improve patient care and the bottom line. If your hospital is considering developing or refining a comprehensive safe patient handling program to protect workers and patients, having the right data, evidence, examples, and tools can help ensure success,” according to the OSHA site. 

OSHA says that the high rate of occupational musculoskeletal injuries among healthcare workers stems from hospitals not employing enough devices to help staff move patients safely. The agency still does not have any published mandates or standards related to reducing patient-handling injuries, just a recommendation that hospitals take steps to reduce them. See the attached .pdf (via the link at the top and bottom of this article) for a list of myths and truths about installing patient lifting equipment.

According to some reports, hospitals are trying to do their best with using new technologies and installing patient lifts. However, there still are many nurses and caregivers who prefer to lift and move patients themselves. The problem, of course, is that if they don’t lift the proper way, or if the patient shifts while being moved or lifted, the patient or caregiver could suffer injury.

There is some controversy around the protocols for when lift devices should be deployed vs. when it is OK for caregivers to do the moving themselves. Some research says nurses and other caregivers should not lift more than 35 pounds without an assist device. But most caregivers balk at that recommendation, noting that they regularly move children and adults of average weight without help. 

The American Nurses Association (ANA), meanwhile, wants hospitals to deploy equipment and adopt protocols so that no staffer ever moves a patient without device assistance. 

“There are too many opportunities for a wrong angle or a slip,” ANA President Pam Cipriano said in a June 2016 issue of Modern Healthcare. “It is one of the key areas where nurses fear injury in the workplace, because that could be career-ending.”

According to the Modern Healthcare report, many hospitals in healthcare systems such as Kaiser Permanente and the Veterans Health Administration have begun to install overhead lifts in their facilities, consisting of a motorized hoist that can lift patients into the air while they're secured in a sling. An overhead rail system allows nurses to move patients around the room or between rooms.

Some lift models designed for obese patients have two motors and can hoist as much as 1,000 pounds. They can be pricey, though. Permanent overhead lifts cost an average of $16,000 per room to install and can be used only in that one room. In contrast, mobile devices cost an average of $6,000. A few mobile devices can be sufficient for an entire hospital if workers take the time to find and use them while moving patients, according to statistics from the ECRI Institute.

The price tags on even mobile lifts might induce some sticker shock, but OSHA says that the devices are cost-effective and that their benefits far outweigh the expense, adding that the initial capital investment in policies and equipment can be recovered within two to five years. Consider the following benefits that OSHA says can be enjoyed by facilities that use lift-assist equipment:

  • Reduced injuries
  • Decreases in lost time and workers’ compensation claims
  • Increased productivity
  • Higher quality of work life and worker satisfaction
  • Staff retention
  • Better patient care and satisfaction

There are some success stories from hospitals that have decided to install lifts in their facilities. For instance, St. Joseph’s/Candler health system in Savannah, Georgia, installed ceiling lifts in 38 patient rooms as well as the critical care department of the 330-bed St. Joseph’s Hospital, plus selected departments in the 384-bed Candler Hospital, according to a story in Healthcare Facilities Management.

In 2011, the hospital installed the ceiling lifts along with a staff training program. Before the installation, staff had experienced a troubling number of injuries related to patient handling, but within a year—with the program only partially in place—the number of yearly injuries dropped to just 37 and has remained around that level since, according to the report. 

“The safety of our coworkers and patients is a top priority, so installing lifts was an easy decision,” Teresa Warren, clinical nurse manager of the ICU and progressive care unit at Candler Hospital, told the magazine.


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