News & Events

Nurses ask for help lifting heavy patients (DS)

June 24, 2009 6:00 AM

A Cape Cod Hospital nurse told state legislators yesterday that the obesity epidemic is hurting American nurses — particularly in the neck, shoulders and back.

Speaking at a hearing on the proposed The Safe Patient Handling Act, registered nurse Beth Piknick said she developed a "never-ending back spasm" after 25 years of heaving lifting on the job.

Heavier patients mean nurses and nursing assistants are lifting 200- to 400-pound patients several times a day, often with no assistance, said David Schildmeier, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which proposed the legislation calling for hospitals to provide a system to help nurses safely lift and handle patients.

In a phone interview, Cape Cod Hospital nurse and MNA president Piknik said she ended up having spinal fusion surgery as a result of her work-related injury. She says she doesn’t want other nurses to have to go through that.

The average nurse lifts 1.8 tons in an eight-hour shift, said Piknick, who now works in endoscopy instead of intensive care. She said the proposed legislation would require that nurses and nursing assistants have access to lifts and other devices that would relieve the strain on their backs and shoulders.

The new Mugar building at Cape Cod Hospital comes equipped with ceiling lifts and other equipment, and the hospital is developing a safe-lifting plan, Piknick said.

The Safe Patient Handling Act would require other health care facilities in the state to develop their own plans, she said.

It’s no surprise that nurses have one of the highest rates of job-related muscular skeletal injuries since they are routinely required to lift more than warehouse workers, Schildmeier said.

The Massachusetts Hospital Association opposes the bill, favoring alternate legislation filed by Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, said MHA spokeswoman Catherine Bromberg. She called the MNA-backed legisation "one size fits all" and said Moore’s bill calls for evidence-based safe handling policies.

Four states have enacted similar legislation to the MNA bill in the past two years, Schildmeier said, adding that safe patient handling will cut down on worker’s compensation claims and staff turnover.