News & Events

How does working in the healthcare industry affect your health?

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
September 2003 Edition

By Kathleen Sperrazza RN, BSN, Nurse Researcher, PHASE Project and Member of the MNA Congress on Health and Safety

A team of University of Massachusetts Lowell researchers from a variety of disciplines (epidemiology, ergonomics, nursing, healthcare and work environment policy, political science, economics, health education and community psychology) recently received support from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the National Institutes of Health to conduct a five-year research project to examine how working in the healthcare industry affects workers’ health.

The $2 million project, already in its third year, began in September 2000 and will continue through September 2005. The research project, which is based at UMass Lowell, is called the Promoting Healthy and Safe Employment (PHASE) in Healthcare, or PHASE in Healthcare.

The health care workforce spans jobs from maintenance, housekeeping and food supply, to patient care workers (professional and semi-professional), technicians, administrators, clerical workers and managers. These workers’ educational backgrounds and wage levels cover a wide range. The workforce, which includes many women and members of minority communities, is exposed to a variety of known health and safety hazards at work. The main goal of the PHASE study is to examine how the physical and social/behavioral occupational health risks interact in ways that lead to differences in these workers’ health and safety.

The study will examine different health care industry settings, including hospitals and long-term care facilities (nursing homes). Labor unions that represent healthcare workers in Massachusetts, Local 285 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the MNA are also participating in the project.

The MNA with the support of Evie Bain, occupational health and safety coordinator and the Congress on Health and Safety has collaborated with the research team to facilitate participation by nurses. Kathy Sperrazza, a member of the Congress is working as a nurse research consultant to the PHASE project. Our participation is intended to give much needed input about workplace concerns facing nurses, and to gain critical information about occupational health and safety issues for nurses in particular.

The PHASE in Healthcare research project uses focus groups as one method to collect information about the health and safety of workers in the healthcare industry today. It aims to learn how health and safety differs for various groups of healthcare workers. Nurses play the largest role in the healthcare industry and, as such, are a vital participant in the collection of information related to health and safety, particularly their own. The project will conduct a series of focus groups with MNA members who are employed in the hospital environment. The focus groups will address the following topics:

  • Health and safety in the workplace
  • Violence in healthcare workplaces
  • How healthcare employers support a diverse workforce
  • Workers’ compensation and return to work issues
  • The impact of restructuring of the healthcare industry in Massachusetts

The focus groups will involve six to eight participants in a planned discussion to learn what participants think or feel about a specific topic. The dialogue generated among the focus group participants will help researchers learn about participants’ personal experiences. Participants will discuss how and why injuries happen, what effect such injuries have on workers’ health, and what might be done to prevent these injuries.

Participation by MNA members in the focus groups is very important to the research team and to the study. Any information you share will be kept strictly confidential. The focus groups will be designed to help participants feel comfortable sharing their comments. Nothing will be reported in a way that will make it possible to identify the person who said it and responses will not be linked with your name in any way. The focus groups will last for 1.5 hours and everyone who participates will receive $25 in cash on completion of the discussion. For more information or to participate, call Kathy Sperrazza at 781.239.0485.