The need for safe handling doesn’t just apply to food or power tools. It also applies to patients in hospitals and nursing homes, where nurses and aides are regularly called upon to lift or maneuver difficult-to-move patients — at considerable risk to the patients and themselves. We’re glad to see Gov. Cuomo and lawmakers have recognized this with legislation approved in the state budget.
Nurses’ groups have long advocated for safe patient handling programs, which can include everything from staff-to-patient ratio to training to mechanical devices such as hoists and slings. These can spare patients, many of whom are frail, paralyzed or obese, the discomfort and indignity of rough handling — or, perhaps more significantly, a drop or fall. And they can spare nurses who work with such patients the back or shoulder injuries that many of them wind up with.
The legislation sets up a multiyear process that will start with a working group at the state Health Department reviewing national data and demonstration programs, identifying best practices and reporting by July 2015. It also requires hospitals to establish committees to review the working group’s recommendations and establish their own safe patient handling programs by 2017. Importantly, half the membership of those committees will be non-management workers providing direct patient care, the best way to get nurses’ valuable input and support.
While the legislation doesn’t require health facilities to purchase mechanical lifts, as an earlier version sponsored by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (a registered nurse) would have done, that’s the likeliest result of the process.
Everywhere such assistive devices have been used to supplement or replace manual lifting, including the State Veterans Home at Batavia, the results have been dramatic. Fewer patient injuries. Fewer worker injuries. Fewer lost workdays. Less absenteeism. Better retention.
And that has meant dramatically lower workers’ compensation and medical liability costs. So much lower that, according to Gunther, the equipment pays for itself in two or three years.
Given all the benefits, there’s no reason for hospitals and nursing homes to wait for the process to play out. They should start buying the mechanical devices and letting them do the heavy lifting now.