An ounce of prevention

June 16-22, 2005
VOL 124 NO. 23
An ounce of prevention
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
St. Elizabeth Medical Center implements “minimal lift environment” safety program

UTICA — St. Elizabeth Medical Center celebrated National Employee Health and Fitness Day on May 18 by officially becoming a “minimal lift environment.” The aim was to reduce dramatically the incidence of employee injuries related to lifting and moving patients.

“It’s a major undertaking for a hospital,” remarked physician assistant Sandy Parsons. She is the administrative coordinator for the new safety program. “We are committed to providing a safe environment for our employees and patients,” said Parsons. “This program will help protect our employees’ health and make their jobs easier by being physically less demanding.”

The concept of a safer environment was developed at St. Elizabeth Health Center three years ago after an ergonomics committee was formed to evaluate the Workers’ Compensation statistics among the employees of the medical center. They found that the majority of work injuries were caused by overexertion from lifting patients.

For several years, the committee researched and evaluated various equipment and safety programs. The nurses also tested the equipment. Consequently, St. Elizabeth invested approximately $336,000 in 238 pieces of ergonomic equipment and training for 600 health care workers in the medical center. “We felt we could make a difference,” said Parsons. “It’s a wonderful undertaking for the hospital. It is improving the health of our employees. They are now able to work eight to 12 hours and be less fatigued. At the same time, our patients are more comfortable.”

The new minimal lift program is beneficial to patients, too. The benefits include more comfortable lifting and transfer, a reduction in the risk of falling, a reduction in skin tears and bedsores and a decrease in the length of stay in the hospital.

Patient Julia Moore was impressed with the way she was transported and moved in the operating room at St. Elizabeth Medical Center when she had surgery in May 2004. The hospital used a HoverMatt, an inflated mat used to slide a patient from a bed to a stretcher. “It was wonderful,” said Moore. “I didn’t feel them move me.”

The new safety program was named TAP, for Transfer Answer Program. Employee Rita Johnson devised the name for the program, winning the contest in which employees competed to create a name.

Nurse educator Pam Fess and physical therapy director Jan Simpson are clinical coordinators for TAP. Fess said the nursing staff is very appreciative of the equipment. “I’ve heard a number of success stories from the nursing personnel about getting people out of bed,” said Fess. “These individuals are being lifted from one area to another without being pulled or tugged. The staff and patients have indicated to me that it’s much more pleasant here at the center.”

Karen Lallier is a nurse who manages the Orthopedic Unit at St. Elizabeth Health Center. “The new program is wonderful and very helpful for both the patients and staff,” said Lallier. “It’s been very positive.”

Simpson also noticed some positive changes. “My staff frequently lifts and moves the patient, but they also do the functional part for strengthening their muscles,” explained Simpson. Her staff likes the new equipment because it allows them the opportunity to focus on increasing the patients’ muscle function.

So far, 352 health care workers have been trained to utilize the new equipment. The new equipment has been demonstrated to the employees by 35 transfer mobility coaches (trainers). The two-hour training session allows the staff an opportunity to utilize the equipment and to engage themselves in it as well.

The new equipment introduced to the health center includes the Stedy, the Lift Walker, the Sara 3000, the Encore, the Trixie, the Tempo, the Opera, the Opera with Combi, the Tenor, the Bravo, the Carendo, the MaxiSlides and the HoverMatt.

The Sara 3000 machine helps a patient rise up out of a sitting position into a standing position so he or she can receive basic hygiene.

“I like this one,” said Fess. “I’m 46 years old and I’ve been in the medical profession for over 20 years. This is well overdue. After working 8- to 12-hour shifts, I was still able to manage my home, but it was getting more and more difficult. I feel this is the beginning of a whole new cultural change.”

Parsons said that St. Elizabeth Health Center expects to receive a return on its investment in less than three years through a dramatic reduction in Workers’ Compensation claims, lost work days and medical bills. “Staff injuries related to patient handling currently cost the medical center about $224,000 annually,” said Parsons.

Noting that St. Elizabeth was the second hospital in the state to implement the minimal lift program, Parsons pointed out another plus — a more attractive environment for recruiting and retaining nurses.

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