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Pay it Forward

Programs to Protect Health Care Workers Significantly Reduce Injuries and Quickly Recoup Investment Costs

By Taylor Lincoln

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Health care workers suffer more injuries requiring days away from work than those in any other industry. As shown in an earlier report in this series, “Nursing: A Profession in Peril,” these episodes often result in career-ending injuries and sometimes leave their victims suffering from permanent pain.

Many of these injuries result from moving or repositioning patients, which is an innately difficult task. But methods to overcome these challenges are relatively straightforward. Mechanical lifts and other technological transfer aids enable workers to move or reposition patients at little risk to themselves.

The problem is that relatively few health care providers have comprehensive programs to spare employees the burden of heavy lifting. For this series, we asked three experts to estimate the rate of hospitals that have adopted comprehensive safe patient handling programs. Their estimates ranged from just 3 to 25 percent of the total number of hospitals.

This report examines what happens when hospitals and other health care facilities invest in programs that protect their workers.

Internal reports of a major health care network and a large hospital, coupled with several academic studies, show that implementation of safe patient handling programs yield substantial – at times extraordinary – reductions in injuries to workers.

Meanwhile, reduced workers’ compensation costs and other savings for providers are sosignificant that these programs consistently recoup their costs within four years.

There are no federal regulations covering patient handling practices, although employers are required by federal law to provide their employees with “safe and healthful working conditions.” Eleven states have passed laws aimed specifically at protecting health care workers.