Oregon OSHA Health and Safety


August 2015

Safe lifting

A small hospital builds a model program

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By Melanie Mesaros

Whether a patient is coming in for care in the ER or a routine physical therapy appointment, staff members at Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston are using an array of tools to safely lift patients, who may not be capable of controlling their own body.

"It's part of our routine to use the equipment when we have a patient we need to lift or reposition," said Laurie Schulz, a registered nurse at the hospital for 12 years. "I'm not the strongest person, and I rely on the equipment to help."

The risk of musculoskeletal injuries is among some of the highest for workers in health care. Nurses, aides, and other attendants face sprains and strains from lifting awkward or heavy patients and the tasks can be repetitive.

Since Good Shepherd Medical Center implemented its safe patient handling program in 2008, musculoskeletal injuries have decreased significantly – with the hospital reporting only one claim over the past three years. Vicki Horneck, a nurse who spearheaded the hospital's safe patient lifting program in 2008 following receipt of an Oregon OSHA grant, said the hospital is using ceiling lifts (18 in patient rooms and others throughout the ER, diagnostic imaging, and physical therapy rooms), along with hover mats, hover jacks, a wheelchair mover (for bariatric patients), and sliding mats.

"The program needs your time up front," she said of its implementation. "You can't just buy equipment and expect people to use it."

To make their program successful, Horneck focused on training staff members she calls "super-users," who not only help train others, but help make decisions about purchasing equipment.

"It wasn't just our administration that said, You will do this,'" she said. "We wanted staff involved in the choices. It was essential in our culture change."

Rick Burrill, a physical therapist in the hospital's clinic, said the lifting equipment is not only saving his back, but can also enhance patient care.

"We have a patient who is over 300 pounds who went through a back surgery," he said. "Without the lifting equipment, we couldn't get them into the pool because there is no way to get them down the pool stairs."

He said that patient is now able to perform exercises in the pool and if the patient falls, the equipment is there as a fail-safe.

"We don't get hurt," said Burrill.

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The culture change is also affecting the hospital's partners, including Hermiston Fire, which has invested in equipment to help paramedics avoid musculoskeletal injuries.

"Many of us have back problems or issues with other joints," said Hermiston firefighter J.W. Roberts. "Firefighters lift people all day long."

Roberts and his fellow paramedics now routinely use a hover mat - an inflatable mat that goes underneath a patient on the ambulance gurney - that allows for a smooth transition to a hospital bed.

"You could have a 500-pound patient and you can lift them with just a finger using the hover mat," said Mark Johnson, another Hermiston firefighter.

Horneck said the success of the small hospital's safe lifting program is getting out, as she fields inquiries from hospitals in Texas, Florida, and Canada that want to understand how to combat musculoskeletal injuries.

"I tell them you need to develop a plan and share how you want people to use it," she said. "Every employee is trained on how to use the equipment and our super-users are out there reminding people the equipment is there." ◼︎

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