Monday, April 10, 2006

Rhode Island: Caring For The Caregivers

It probably wouldn't come as a major surprise to most people that workers who lift 1.8 tons per shift would suffer serious back injuries.

But what most people probably don't realize is that these "he-men" ae mostly "she's" -- nurses and other health care workers.
Health care workers have some of the highest job-related injury rates, both in Rhode Island and nationwide. In 2004, Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show, the state’s hospitals reported about 1,600 workplace injuries or illnesses, or 9.8 per 100 full-time workers. They had 69 percent more injuries involving lost work time, and double the average back injury rate.

Nursing homes reported about 1,400 injuries or illnesses, or 11.1 per 100 full-time workers – more than twice the private-sector average of 5.2 per 100. Nationwide, hospitals and nursing homes together reported more than half a million injuries and illnesses.
With no OSHA ergonomics standard (thanks to President Bush and the Republican Congress that repealed the standard in 2001), health care workers are dependent on state legislatures to pass laws -- and on their unions to get those laws passed. In Rhode Island, for example,
A bill introduced by state Rep. Grace Diaz, D-Providence, a former CNA herself, would require every licensed health care facility to set up a committee, chaired by a nurse, to develop a safe patient handling program, with policies aimed at preventing musculoskeletal disorders among workers and injuries to patients.

The measure, called the Safe Patient Handling Act of 2006, would also require facilities to implement rules to virtually eliminate manual lifting, transferring and repositioning of patients, except in life-threatening emergencies or other extraordinary circumstances.

Rick Brooks, executive director of United Nurses and Allied Professionals, which represents health care workers at Westerly Hospital, Rhode Island Hospital and many other facilities, said a key component to reducing injuries is the use of mechanical lifts.

The equipment generally ranges in price from $100 to $600, Brooks said, and the investment pays off because of the reduced injury rates. “Some of it is really affordable and low-tech,” he said. “It just depends on the needs of the facility.”

The addition of the equipment could reduce workers’ compensation costs and absenteeism, according to Jamie Tessler, an ergonomics consultant who testified in favor of Diaz’s bill at a hearing last month.

Tessler told legislators that hospitals in New York and Oregon have seen their workers’ comp costs drop after installing the equipment. One hospital in New York, she said, saw a 24-percent drop.

With the average cost of back injury claims costing $15,000 and the most expensive ones costing $200,000, Salsich said, the investment is worth it.

Washington State passed a similar law last month that requires hospitals to establish safe patient handling committees, create safe patient handling policies, conduct patient handling assessments, provide annual staff training and conduct annual performance evaluations.