The VA Loma Linda (Calif.) Healthcare System was averaging dozens of staff injuries and $1 million in worker replacement costs a year when Tony Hilton came to the organization in 2009 as the 162-bed hospital's first coordinator for safe patient handling.
She was charged with identifying risky tasks—such as manually lifting patients out of bed or moving them from a gurney to a bed—and finding high-tech solutions to prevent injuries. She also supervised the training and education designed to persuade skeptical healthcare workers to change their habits.
Loma Linda's program was part of a large-scale effort by the Veterans Health Administration, announced in 2008, to implement safe patient-handling practices and technology in all its hospitals to reduce staff and patient injuries. To date, the VA has spent more than $200 million on the initiative.
U.S. healthcare workers suffer some of the highest rates of musculoskeletal injuries of any occupation, and most of those are attributed to the manual lifting and moving of patients, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Despite ample research showing the benefits of using mechanical patient-handling equipment such as overhead lifts, workers at many hospitals and nursing homes still are hoisting and moving patients the old-fashioned way. That's both because of the cost and logistics of installing the equipment, and the challenge of changing organizational culture to get healthcare workers to actually use it, said Anthony Donaldson, president of the Association of Safe Patient Handling Professionals, a not-for-profit advocacy group. “No organization is ignoring this issue,” he said. “But it's difficult.”