Protecting Our Workforce

The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows an ongoing trend of hospital employees suffering injuries and illnesses at nearly twice the national average rate. Nurses and Patient Care Technicians (PCTs) are at the highest risk for injury, primarily from lifting patients.

Safe Patient HandlingOSF HealthCare has seen this first hand. The number one recorded workplace injury in 2003 at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center was related to patient handling activities with nearly 160 caregivers hurt while lifting or transferring patients. This one injury category at OSF Saint Francis cost the system more than two million dollars annually in workers’ compensation.

Clinicians shouldn’t be expected to forgo their own safety in order to care for patients. Healthcare is one of the few remaining professions that frequently require the ability to lift 100 pounds at a time. In 2010, Illinois became one of 11 states that mandates safe patient handling programs in acute care facilities.

OSF HealthCare was proactive in addressing this issue, long before the state law was approved. A Safe Patient Handling & Mobility program was first implemented at OSF Saint Francis in 2004, and has been expanded to the other hospitals within the system over the last few years. We’ve made great progress in reducing workplace injuries thanks in part to Ministry-wide training for nurses, nursing assistants, and other clinical caregivers at Jump.

Evolution of Safe Patient Handling Program

The program initially began at OSF Saint Francis under the newly formed Injury Prevention Department which put together a team specifically trained to operate portable lift equipment. Nurses could page the team for assistance as needed. That group was eventually moved to the Patient Transport Department in 2007 where everyone was cross-trained for transport and lift team services. This allowed further expansion of the Safe Patient Handling & Mobility program to reduce clinician injuries across the board.

This resulted in the purchase of various types of lift equipment for every hospital department and a training program for new nurses and PCTs. The training originally took place within OSF Saint Francis. However, it required finding an empty patient room. We later partnered with Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing to use its space, but growing enrollment and increased demand for training sessions made it difficult to get lab space at convenient times. The OSF Saint Francis Learning Academy began utilizing the old White Middle School building for various classes. 

This extra space allowed for the Safe Patient Handling & Mobility program to be moved there as well. The downside, however, was the large classrooms were not a realistic learning environment for trainees. Nurses and PCTs are typically required to maneuver lift equipment in tight hospital quarters.

New nurse and PCT orientation transitioned to Jump when it opened in 2013. The virtual patient rooms allow clinicians to experience lifting patients out of bed, moving them from a bed to a stretcher, and repositioning them in bed using various pieces of lift equipment and other handling aids. The facility also offers the Regional Transport Center where clinicians and even valets can practice getting patients in and out of vehicles using lift equipment. The intention is to develop more curriculum around patient handling scenarios in the future.

The Safe Patient Handling Program Today

Safe Patient HandlingThere are now robust, fully developed safe patient handling tools, policies, and procedures in place for OSF nurses, PCTs, and other caregivers to follow. The program has also been incorporated into curriculum within the College of Nursing to allow newly minted nurses to become comfortable using lift equipment before entering the workforce.

From a health and well-being standpoint, the Safe Patient Handling & Mobility program promotes safety and teaches all our caregivers the proper way to handle lift equipment when moving patients without getting injured. This reduces employee fatigue and means OSF can keep nurses at the bedside longer. It is also beneficial to our patients in promoting increased mobility, reduced pain and skin shearing during patient transfers, and other handling activities while in our care.

Patient handling injuries have significantly decreased as a result of these measures. Last year, OSF Saint Francis reported 34 injuries related to patient handling activities and the cost for worker’s compensation dropped to under $300,000. We anticipate as the other hospitals within the Ministry build their Safe Patient Handling & Mobility programs, they will reap similar results.

Categories: Culture of Safety, Education