NURSES: Back Injuries Force Many to Leave Profession
While hospital administrators scramble to address the current nationwide nursing shortage, they may need to look only as far as their heaviest patients, the Contra Costa Times reports. Researchers estimate that 12% of all nurses leave the profession because of back injuries from turning, lifting and moving patients. And according to the most recent federal statistics, nurses experience 10% of all serious work-related muscle and back injuries in the country. "Health care has more injuries than work in a coal mine or in a steel mill," William Charney, an occupational safety consultant who authored a book on nursing injuries, said. To address the problem, Audrey Nelson, a former nurse administrator, persuaded the Veterans Administration to establish a safety research center at Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa, Fla. Her 42-member committee has identified 16 "injury-prone tasks" and is now examining less strenuous ways to perform them. One such solution, the ceiling lift, travels along a ceiling track in hospital rooms and lifts patients who have been placed in a sling, hoisting them between their beds and their wheelchairs. "We love it," said nurse Linda Smith, noting that in a recent nurse questionnaire, "the ceiling lift [was] picked as the best device in almost every category."
The Price of Prevention
Administrators, however, are hesitant to purchase these machines, because of their cost -- at least $5,000 a room -- and a lack of evidence about their effectiveness. Guy Fragala, environmental health and safety director at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, said that hospitals view workplace back injuries as "the cost of doing business," adding that "reformers have yet to make a convincing economic case for reforms by keeping records on the secondary cost of injuries." Yet according to Charney, a recent study at Sacramento's Catholic Heath Care West found that the implementation of "lift teams," skilled workers who roam the hospital with mechanical devices to lift patients, reduced the number of injury-related days lost from 170 to zero within one year (Malone, 6/11).