Dangerous profession: nursing home assistants report three times the injuries of other workers

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Certified nursing assistants have one of the highest reported rates of injury across the country and in Ohio, according to a review of injury data and first-person stories reported this week by The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.

Nursing assistants are injured three times more often than the average worker, researchers and government statistics show.

Nursing assistants provide almost all the front-line care in nursing facilities -- in Ohio that's for about 75,000 residents in 960 nursing facilities.

Nationally, the rate of injury among nursing assistants is similar to the rate among construction workers, police and firefighters, according to 2016 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In addition, privately-owned skilled facilities and those operated by local governments fare better than state-run homes, with injury rates of 6.5 and 6.1 per 100, respectively, compared to 13.7 at state-owned facilities.

State and federal officials dating back to 1999 have found that the lifting and moving of residents and the nonstop pace necessary to meet residents' needs have caused thousands of Ohio nurses and nursing assistants to suffer injuries from overexertion and falls, the Plain Dealer wrote.

Injuries to the back, shoulders, legs, knees, and feet led to more than 35,000 call-outs nationally each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Some of those are caused by moving patients, reaching and lifting, or triggered by an entire day spent on their feet.

In the last five years, the newspaper reported, nursing home employees filed 9,927 claims with the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. Of those, 3,425 were linked to overexertion. That alone can lead to burnout.

"This is a gargantuan problem in nursing homes,''  Brian Lee of Families for Better Care told the newspaper. "[Nurses and nursing assistants] are overworked, short-staffed and underappreciated. The burnout, the frustration, the injuries. They can all be prevented if employers just hire more people.''

Nursing assistant pay in Ohio has trended downward for more than a decade, according to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute. In 2006, these employees averaged $12.80 an hour, which had fallen to $11.96 by 2016.