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Lift Team Case Study

Miami Valley Hospital Patient Lift Team Program Reduces Nursing Injuries/Disability, Increases Productivity

First-Year Results: 70% Reduction Back/Shoulder Injuries

Preventing back injuries has become a major workplace safety issue in recent years. A 2003 Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year, accounting for about one out of every five workplace injuries or illnesses. In addition, a quarter of all compensation indemnity claims involve back injuries, costing businesses billions of dollars on top of the pain and suffering borne by employees.

Nursing consistently ranks as one of the top 10 occupations for work-related musculoskeletal injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2002. Data compiled from more than 80 studies internationally indicate 35 percent to 80 percent of all nurses sustain back injury during their career.

Specifically, the report found that about 9,000 healthcare workers will sustain disabling back injuries on the job and 38 percent of all nurses will experience back pain during their careers. More disturbing is that nursing assistants experience three to four times more injuries than registered nurses. It is no wonder that back injuries — and an aging workforce — may be the single largest contributors to the nursing shortage.

MVH Establishes a Lift Team Program

In 2003, Miami Valley Hospital (MVH), in Dayton, OH, took steps to address the problem by examining ways to reduce back injuries. The hospital began to investigate the feasibility of creating a lift team in an effort to reduce staff injuries, lost workdays and workers' compensation claims.

After an extensive review of lift teams at other healthcare institutions across the country, a proposal was developed to seek funding to implement a lift team program at MVH in order to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injury and disability; promote favorable patient physiological outcomes; create a safer working environment for nurses; and enhance the retention of experienced nurses and the recruitment of new nurses. The proposal outlined the goals of the program, the budgetary requirements and the specific protocols for using the lift team, as well as the job requirements for lift team members.

In 2004, the Miami Valley Hospital Foundation provided $113,000.00 to fund the salaries, education and training of four full-time equivalents (FTEs). Initially, the program was instituted during day shifts when most injuries occurred and on units with the highest numbers of injuries during the last two years, specifically, the critical care and step down units. However, in late 2005, the foundation granted funding to extend the program to all shifts throughout hospital units. Moreover, it provided funding for two additional FTEs.

First-Year Results Prove Successful

The first-year results of the patient lift-team program — which tracked more than 10,000 lifts — found that lower-back and shoulder injuries among nurses decreased 93 percent after the first six months and 70 percent after the first year. In addition, more than 800 hours of nursing staff time was gained in the first year since nurses no longer were required to assist other nurses in holding or lifting patients.

Patients described feeling "safer" when moved by the lift team, and nurses reported that they had experienced fewer musculoskeletal problems on the job. MVH has received many letters of gratitude from nurses and physicians for this organizational asset. As of yet, it is too early to determine the impact of the lift team on retention and recruitment. However, the lift-team program has shown tangible benefits in terms of a reduction in the number of injuries, in transitional duty days and in associated medical costs.

How the Lift Team Works

Today, the lift-team program employs about six physically fit men, teamed in pairs working overlapping shifts and covering a total of 800 plus beds. When they arrive for work, team members begin scheduling time lifts for the day, with their first priority being medical-surgical units and critical care units, the primary users of the service. The team can be accessed any time for emergency lifts, helicopter off loads, and assistance in positioning patients for dressing changes or other procedures.

To keep them in shape, all have gone through in-depth training in moving patients with and without mechanical assistance in a variety of environments. There are quarterly observations by an ergonomics expert and yearly competency reviews in patient handling in order to ensure skills are maintained. To minimize the risk of injury, lift team members must successfully complete the Firefighters' Fitness Test, along with an evaluation by the hospital's medical director of Employee Health.

The nursing staff is educated about and encouraged to effectively use the lift team. Guidelines on how to access the team and schedule lifts are posted in all hospital units. To improve communication between the lift team and the nursing staff, the lift team members are equipped with a wireless phone, which significantly reduces delays in team response and allows the lift team to prioritize lifts based on demand.

Summary and Conclusions

The program described in this case study clearly demonstrates that the use of a lift team appropriately selected and specially trained can significantly reduce injuries, improve financial outcomes and enhance nursing satisfaction. Time and again, lift teams have proven to be essential since they protect a healthcare organization's most valuable resource — its nurses.

As for retaining and recruiting a professional lift team, careful candidate selection is crucial. Mandatory qualities for any lift team position — besides physical fitness — are excellent communication skills, and the ability to think critically and to work under pressure. Those working on the lift team become valuable assets for the nursing staff, and patients begin to feel secure and safe knowing people trained in how to lift are doing the lifting.

Finally, the lift team is cognizant of its own health and safety — to date the Miami Valley Hospital lift team is injury free. Considering the multiple tons of weight lifted by these four- to-six men, it is a laudable feat.