News & Events

MNA President Testifies at State House Hearing on Safe Patient Handling Bill

Nurses testify on how RNs unnecessarily suffer minor, chronic or catastrophic muscle/skeletal injuries from years of lifting. The following is the full text of MNA President Beth Piknick’s testimony.

My name is Beth Piknick, RN, and I am the President of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. On behalf of the 23,000 members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, I write to express our support for HB 2026/SB 803, An Act Providing for Safe Patient Handling.

This bill would establish a Safe Patient Handling program at all health care facilities that would set acceptable standards for the lifting and handling of patients to curb the high rate of injuries incurred by RNs and health care professionals who perform these activities.

Among health care professionals, back disorders develop as a result of cumulative injuries incurred by repetitive activity over the years. Spinal damage is a predictable outcome of repeatedly bending forward and lifting large amounts of weight. As an internal injury, this condition is often overlooked. Symptoms are hidden because the damage occurs over a period of time. According to national statistics, six out of the top 10 professions at greatest risk for back injury are: nurse’s aides, licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, health aides, radiology technicians, and physical therapists.

Fifteen years ago, I was a nurse in an Intensive Care Unit and had been for 21 years. Fifteen years ago, I was an active person. I enjoyed bicycling, competitive racquet ball, water-skiing and whitewater rafting trips with my family.

Fifteen years ago, I was part of an active, aggressive team of health care professionals, knew all the newest procedures and equipment. I took care of critically ill patients and their families.

During my career, I pushed, pulled and transferred patients from bed to stretcher from bed to chair and back again. I awkwardly reached to protect my patients from hurting themselves, their family members and/or myself. I frequently had patients hang onto me with all their weight when they were being helped. I had to hold patients on their side as I bathed them, cared for them. Often they were either unresponsive or uncooperative.

At the end of a very long weekend, taking care of 2 very difficult patients, I was helping another nurses put her small, cooperative patient back to bed. I felt a sharp, stabbing pain followed by a never-ending back spasm. This began a very long road away from my career, away from all my physical activities, and towards multiple appointments with chiropractors, physical therapists, radiologists, neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons. My hope was that this long road would lead me back to the Intensive Care Unit and life as I knew it. I endured multiple, painful tests. For almost a year, I wore a Boston Brace, a hard plastic brace from my chest to my hips all the time, except at night.

My goal was always to get back to the job I loved in the ICU, but after surgery and major rehabilitation that was and continues to remain impossible. The reality is, if I want to be pain free, I need to be in control of my environment. You can’t be in control of your environment when you take care of patients. I must constantly be aware of my surroundings. I can’t stand for long periods of time without support. I’m usually looking for a wall to lean on. I can only sit in certain chairs. I cannot lift nor do any repetitive bending or twisting motions. My official restrictions, per my surgeon, are not lifting more than 40 pounds and no repetitive forward bending.

The hospital was able to accommodate me so I returned to work as a registered nurse, which many of my back-injured colleagues are unable to do. So although I did return to the hospital, it was not to the Intensive Care Unit. My identity had been based mostly on being an ICU nurse. The inability to care for patients and their families was devastating and triggered four and a half years of severe clinical depression. The costs of the treatment for clinical depression were not covered by workers’ comp. They came out of my pocket. My family had to cope with both my physical and now my psychological problems. The true cost to them can never be quantified. It was horrendous, and although it was 15 years ago, I continue to cope with the reality of my injury.

Currently, I work with only outpatients in the endoscopy unit. I am often bored and miss the challenge of the ICU. My heart is still there and probably always will be, but I am grateful that I can still be with patients in some capacity. Sometimes when I speak with others I will say, I used to have a career, now I have a paycheck. Although this is rather melodramatic, I hope you will understand the meaning behind it.

One of the most surprising and disturbing moments in this whole experience was when I learned that my injury could have been prevented. I thought my facility was up-to-date with equipment. It wasn’t. I learned that there were all types of lifting devices commercially available and that my hospital simply chose not to have them.

There is equipment for every type of lifting, pulling and pushing activity which takes place in any health care facility.

This bill will help lower the physical damage that is done to health care professionals by requiring all health care facilities in the Commonwealth to develop and implement a safe patient handling program. HB 2026/ SB 803 will reduce the risk of injuries to both health care professionals and to patients. We urge the Public Health Committee to support this legislation.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my experience with you today.