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Nurses are selfless as a rule, and it’s often without hesitation that they put patients first. But we all know how important it is to have the technology, guidelines and support needed to care for patients without jeopardizing personal safety.
Here, NPR explores the alarming rate at which hospital staff continue to be injured and the policies that, if adopted, could very well help:
When Tove Schuster raced to help a fellow nurse lift a patient at Crozer-Chester Medical Center near Philadelphia in March 2010, she didn’t realize she was about to become a troubling statistic.
While working the overnight shift, she heard an all-too-common cry: “Please, I need help. My patient has fallen on the floor.”
The patient was a woman who weighed more than 300 pounds. So Schuster did what nursing schools and hospitals across the country teach: She gathered a few colleagues, and they lifted the patient as a team.
“I had her legs—a corner of one of the legs, anyway,” says Schuster, who was 43 years old at the time. “And as we swung her up onto the bed, I felt something pop. And I went ‘ooo.'”
She finished the shift in pain and drove straight home to bed.
But after Schuster woke up late that afternoon, her husband, Matt, heard her shouting. He says he ran to the bedroom and found her crawling across the floor. “I thought it was a joke at first,” he says. “And she says, ‘I can’t walk.'”
Schuster had injured her back moving the patient, which the hospital acknowledged. And today, X-rays of her back show how a surgeon repaired a damaged disk in her spine using a metal cage and four long, sharp screws.
“I can finally walk and sit again without being in excruciating pain,” Schuster says. “But the career I had as a floor nurse is over.”
According to surveys by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are more than 35,000 back and other injuries among nursing employees every year, severe enough that they have to miss work.
Nursing assistants and orderlies each suffer roughly three times the rate of back and other musculoskeletal injuries as construction laborers.
The article continues with a description of how leaders from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are trying to bring attention to laws that will protect hospital workers.
James Collins, a research manager in the NIOSH Division of Safety Research, says before studying back injuries among nursing employees, he focused on auto factory workers. His subjects were “93 percent men, heavily tattooed, macho workforce, Harley-Davidson rider type guys,” he says. “And they were prohibited from lifting over 35 pounds through the course of their work.”
Nursing employees in a typical hospital lift far heavier patients a dozen or more times every day.
“That was my biggest shock and surprise,” Collins says. “And the big deal is, the injuries are so severe that for many people, they’re career-ending.”
But officials and researchers throughout the health care industry say that most hospitals have not taken aggressive action to protect the nursing staff from lifting injuries.
Want to know more? Read the entirety of the article through the NPR site here.
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