As highlighted in a recent NPR series on injured nurses, those who take care of us professionally have not always received the best injury prevention training and technology while on the job. Healthcare workers suffer higher rates of musculoskeletal injuries than any other occupation; these injuries are often caused by manually lifting and moving patients in hospitals or residents in elder care facilities. Direct and indirect costs associated with back injuries in the healthcare industry are estimated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to be a staggering $20 billion annually!
To help reduce these healthcare worker injuries through improved safe patient handling, MEMIC is now providing newly designed safe assist belts (commonly referred to as gait belts) to several hundred of our healthcare policyholders across the Eastern Seaboard. Safety management consultants hand deliver the belts and provide training on the proper use of these ergonomically improved gait belts.
I’ve already delivered a safe assist belt to Eric Pooler, the administrator at Southridge Rehabilitation and Living Center in Biddeford, Maine. He told me what I’ve heard echoed at many healthcare facilities; the older style gait belts are not easy to use and are not well-liked by the staff nor the residents. He believed they would find success with the new belts because they are much easier to use. The residents may actually start asking for them because they are much more comfortable.
I showed Eric how using the legs (instead of arms and back) with a push-pull method, enhanced by the ergonomic design and vertical handles of the safe assist belt, is far easier and less stressful on the caregiver’s body than the riskier lifting methods that are too often practiced with conventional gait belts. The safe assist belts are also wider than conventional gait belts with extra padding and a slip resistant lining for enhanced patient comfort.
Over the years patient handling has changed tremendously. When I started in nursing school the ‘hook and toss’ method of raising people up by their armpits was the norm, but that method can actually do damage to the patient’s or resident’s shoulders. As a result, the traditional gait belt, which wraps around a patient’s waist and was originally intended for caregivers to assist the patient with walking and ambulation, became a common method for patient lifting. The misuse of the device as “patient handles” to lift patients increases the chance of injury to the caregiver and can be uncomfortable for the patient.
MEMIC has had great success in supporting cultural changes in healthcare facilities. MEMIC is now investing more than ten thousand dollars in the safe assist belt program so that caregivers and employers will see the benefits these advanced safe assist belts have in providing superior care and reducing injuries. MEMIC has also negotiated a discount rate from the manufacturer to make it that much easier for facilities to replace their older belts and lifting methods. Advances in safe patient handling through improved tools, like the safe assist belt, and reinforced by improved training is truly a win-win-win for patients, healthcare workers and their employers.
[MEMIC safety management consultants for the territories of Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine pick up safe assist belts at MEMIC’s Albany, New York office.]