New York is directing health officials and hospitals to identify best practices for safely handling patients in an effort to reduce rough lifting and better protect staff from back injuries.
Legislation proposed by the Cuomo administration and approved by lawmakers in the state budget will establish a working group at the Health Department to review national data and demonstration programs, identify best practices and report by July 2015.
New York hospitals are required to establish committees, consider those measures and establish their own safe patient handling programs by 2017.
"I've worked on floors with patients that are a heavy lift," said Assembly member Aileen Gunther, a Middletown Democrat who is also a registered nurse. "There are a lot of burnout nurses. They hurt their backs."
According to sponsors, techniques like using mechanical lifts will reduce workers' compensation claims, while helping lift, transfer and reposition paralyzed or otherwise immobile patients more steadily and gently than nurses and hospital aides can. Gunther pointed to recently built Orange Regional Medical Center with lifts that one nurse can use to immediately move a patient over a stretcher without waiting for help.
"This does not have to involve elaborate expenditures," said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Health Committee. "A lot of the equipment is nowadays fairly simple. There is equipment that can be very effective and is readily moveable."
The enacted legislation differs from the bill sponsored by Gunther with 104 co-sponsors in the Assembly and the companion Senate measure with 37 sponsors, a majority of both houses. Removed were provisions that directed the statewide policy to include recommendations for lift equipment and ratios of equipment per staff. It does direct hospitals to consider the feasibility of incorporating lifts when planning to build or remodel.
"We wanted to make sure when the bill talks about safe patient handling it isn't only talking about machines," Gottfried said. "It's talking about techniques and smart use of personnel. A major point of the bill is not to dictate particular policies for hospitals. But it also is designed to protect the rights of the individual nurse."
The new law says hospitals are to establish a process where an employee can refuse to move or lift a patient when he or she "reasonably believes in good faith will expose a patient or health care facility employee to an unacceptable risk of injury." It also directs the Health Department to issue rules by July 2016 for hospitals to get a reduced workers' compensation rate for implementing a safe patient handling program.