Safe patient handling programs are being implemented across the United States to help reduce musculoskeletal disorders among hospital workers.
In this module, we will take a look at just a few examples of the various types of safe patient handling programs that have seen results.
When it comes to financing projects or equipment related to safe patient handling, St. Vincent’s Medical Center has a “safety trumps all” attitude. The hospital fosters a “high reliability” culture, and two of its five high-level corporate goals relate to safety.
All associates share St. Vincent’s culture of safety. High reliability opened channels of communication and encouraged caregivers to speak up about proper lifting. Associates are taught that it is “not part of the job” to get hurt handling patients. Individual departments are proud of the changes they made to improve safety.
St. Vincent’s has not always taken this approach to patient handling. Although the hospital launched a safe patient handling program in 2005, lifts were not being used because the program lacked local “super users“ and accountability from management to follow the policy.
When the SmartMOVES program was reinvigorated in 2008, the hospital asked associates for their input on equipment and provided extensive hands-on training on its uses and benefits.
During the first year, patient handling injuries decreased 56 percent, and they continue to decrease: from 2012 to 2013, the hospital saw a 27 percent reduction. The success of the current program is also due to management commitment and transparency. Senior executives lead daily safety huddles, and “good catches” (i.e., reported near misses) are treated as opportunities to learn additional ways to improve safety.
Even though most of its work is in pediatrics, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital realized the need for lift equipment as part of its safe patient handling program. Many young patients exceed the recommended 35-pound weight limit for manual lifting. In addition, Cincinnati Children’s sees adult patients who are receiving continuing care for pediatric conditions.
Cincinnati Children’s policy states that employees may not lift patients without mechanical assistance. Algorithms help determine which equipment and tools to use and when to use them. Ceiling lifts are installed in nearly every patient room; addi¬tionally a two-person lift team is available with portable equipment and a variety of slings. Nearly all floor staff are trained on how to use the lifts in their units. The hospital expects to see a nearly five-fold return on its investment in lifting equipment within five years.
The most innovative component of Tampa General Hospital’s workplace safety program is its use of “lift teams”—two-person teams that specialize in using equipment to lift and transfer patients throughout this 1,000+ bed hospital. The lift teams have been in place for more than 10 years and have grown from six to 22 full-time equivalent employees.
Some two-person teams are scheduled for specific units, working their way through the unit repositioning patients according to each one’s needs. Other teams are available on demand; they carry wireless tablet computers to receive and prioritize lift requests throughout the hospital. Response times are as short as five minutes, with most calls being answered in 15 to 20 minutes, which means nurses and assistants can feel confident paging a lift team instead of taking matters into their own hands.
Hospital administrators say caregivers have enough patient responsibilities to worry about, so a dedicated lift team literally and figuratively takes a load off their backs. The lift teams also take responsibility for equipment maintenance and inventory, which ensures that the equipment is accessible and ready for use.
Having dedicated lift teams has not only helped Tampa General to overcome barriers related to lift use and accessibility, but the teams have also contributed to a 65 percent decrease in patient handling injuries, a 90 percent reduction in lost workdays, and a 92 percent reduction in workers’ compensation costs per dollar of payroll.
Administrators say these benefits far outweigh the costs of equipment, team member salaries, and training. Patients and their families appreciate the lift teams too. Lift team members get to know each patient during his or her stay, carefully explaining exactly what they are going to do, and they use the equipment efficiently and with confidence. Patients of all sizes say this approach makes them feel they are treated with dignity.