Lifts Feature: Ready for lift-off

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New knowledge of lifting injuries is propelling the safe patient- handling market to new offerings, training and accessories

Lifting is not what it used to be.
Thank goodness.
What was accepted as standard
practice at facilities and nursing schools as recently as a decade ago does not pass muster today. Today, safe- or no-lifting policies are becoming common at major chains. The old "heave-ho" not only is not being used, it is not being tolerated. Staff now could get reprimanded for such behavior. 

As more knowledge about the detriment of lifting to workers and nursing homes has come to the fore, lift suppliers have adapted. A lift today barely resembles the lifts of decades past. The old Hoyerâ„¢ lift -- with its characteristic hydraulic pump and hanging chains -- has often been replaced by state-of-the-art ceiling and floor lifts.
Some new adaptations: The sit-to-stand, which came on the market in the early 1990s, is common at many facilities. Ergonomic features such as padded foot pedals are moving into the market, and accessories to lifts are growing as ergonomic necessities. Lift companies also are beginning to see the potential of bariatric lifts. The sky could be the limit as new research on safe lifting practices continues to expand.
Risky business
Steve Hullum, who has been working in the lift market since the 1980s, remembers when nursing homes would stash Hoyerâ„¢ lifts in a shower stall or in a closet.
"I don't think I saw one ever being used," said the president and owner of Progressive Healthcare Systems, a stocking distributor for lifts. "They just had them like fire extinguishers."
How times have changed. It is common knowledge that working at a nursing home can be dangerous -- largely because of lifting. The nursing home industry had the third highest worker-injury rate among 84 industry groups in 2003, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Despite statistics, there is still no standard regarding workplace injuries in nursing homes. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration treats occupational issues for nursing homes under its general duty clause that calls for a safe environment for employees.
"We would like to see at some point nursing homes move to policies of no manual lifting, but that's not something we can enforce at this point," said Sharon Danann, industrial hygienist at OSHA.
Even without a regulation the climate has been changing, according to experts. In recent years, OSHA devised guidelines specific to nursing homes and lifting. It also has cited nursing home chains under its general duty clause for unsafe lifting, establishing precedents for the rest of the industry.
A 2002 settlement between provider Beverly Enterprises Inc., which represented the first major settlement for unsafe lifting, broadcast to the industry the necessity of safe lifting protocols.
The government also is feeling pressure to act from organizations such as the American Nurses Association, which successfully pushed for a law in Texas. As of January, nursing facilities in the state have to have a safe resident handling program (see page 46).
The bottom line is injuries are not good for the industry. A worker compensation claim can start at $1,500 and go as high as six figures, according to Atlantic Insurance, which insures more than half of long-term care facilities in Massachusetts.
Workplaces can no longer afford to carry on with the same old practices, because they are losing too many workers, experts say.
"We're not going to have any more nurses," said Charley Wallace, president of ErgoSafeâ„¢ Products LLC of St. Louis. "We can't replace them fast enough."
Changing practices
As attitudes have begun to change, providers and lift suppliers have adapted. Besides Beverly, other big chains have begun implementing safe-lift programs. Genesis HealthCare, for example, has transitioned about 107 facilities into its "Safe Resident Handling" program, which involves new lift and transfer equipment and training. In the next fiscal year, the chain's remaining 64 centers will enter the program, according to Mark Santoleri, corporate dire