Sheri Meyer, a cardiac nurse at Affinity Medical Center in Massillon, Ohio, tore a muscle in her upper back last March while helping a patient move into a chair. The 56-year-old nurse was assigned to light duty for eight months after the accident. Later, she was not able to return to work because of complications from surgery to repair the muscle.
Affinity, a 156-bed hospital owned by Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems, has two mobile patient lifts to move immobile patients, as well as other devices to help with moving patients who are able to move partly on their own, officials at the hospital said. At many hospitals, however, lifts and other patient-moving devices either aren't available or aren't immediately accessible.
Even though Affinity had assist equipment, at the time of the accident Meyer says she was not aware that it was available to help her move patients. “I shot my arm out to help,” she said. “We're caregivers; it's just our mindset. We sometimes encounter a situation, and you have to react.”
Most hospitals across the country have mobile, wheeled lifts at their facilities. But busy nurses and aides typically move average-sized patients themselves rather than taking the time to get an assistive device from elsewhere in the building.
The sparse use of devices to help move patients is the single biggest reason why healthcare workers have one of the highest rates of occupational musculoskeletal injuries in the U.S., experts say. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that there are 75 lift-related injuries for every 10,000 full-time hospital workers, and 107 injuries 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.
Experts say permanent ceiling-mounted lifts in each patient room would significantly boost use of these assist devices, and some health systems, such as Kaiser Permanente and the Veterans Health Administration, have installed them. Mayo Clinic's Florida hospital recently asked Balfour Beatty Construction to retrofit lifts in all 194 of its existing patient rooms as well as 56 new rooms added in a vertical expansion, said Edward Hernandez, senior vice president at Nashville-based Balfour Resource Group, the construction firm's healthcare consulting arm.
Manufacturers of patient-handling devices see an opportunity to expand their business in the U.S. Chicago-based Hill-Rom acquired the Swedish lift-manufacturing company Liko in 2008, and it has become one of Hill-Rom's fastest-growing lines of business. Many lift manufacturers are or were headquartered in Europe, where rules require provider organizations to adopt comprehensive approaches to preventing injuries.
“One of the reasons Hill-Rom acquired Liko was because there was a recognition that the trend, not just in Europe but in the U.S. as well, was toward safe patient handling, and the value that having systems and a protocol provides for patients and caregivers,” said Alton Shader, president of Hill-Rom's North American unit.