From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Lift-Teams: Help or Hurt?

In September, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have made lift teams and lifting policies mandatory for hospitals in the state. The reason? Money.

The bill, AB 2532, sponsored by the California Nurses Association (CNA), would have required hospitals to establish practices to protect the nurses from potential injuries associated with lifting patients. According to CNA, “back injuries are adding to the state’s workers’ compensation costs and exacerbating the nursing shortage by cutting RN careers short.”  Additionally, CNA noted that “[AB 2532] would prohibit hospitals from disciplining workers who refuse to lift a patient for fear of safety or injury, and would require hospitals to create back injury prevention plans for employees.”

However, the state’s governor had his own reason for vetoing the bill — the potential cost for the health care industry. Because I am concerned about the financial burden hospitals are already under, I cannot support the costly mandate imposed on [hospitals] by AB 2532. Although the goal of having all hospitals implement a standardized lift policy that includes lift teams and modern equipment is laudable, it need not be mandated in statute. Procedures to limit injuries caused by the lifting patients should already be a part of a hospital’s mandatory Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP),” wrote Schwarzenegger in a message explaining the veto of AB 2532.


But would the cost of the recommended lift programs really outweigh their benefits?  Maggie Flanagan, a nurse from Tacoma, Washington doesn’t believe so; in fact, employing lift teams and lift equipment, said Flanagan, could even reduce costs to facilities.

“Lifting teams are great.  They’re effective. They work.  Facilities might even get away with fewer devices if they had a lifting team that could always get a nurse a lift when needed,” said Flanagan.

Without a lift team, Flanagan indicated that both patients and nurses suffer. “There’s a lot of waiting,” she said.  Nurses try to find other workers to help them move a patient.  Patients are often hesitant to ask a nurse to help them move because they’re afraid of hurting the nurse.  Nurses have to leave a patient’s side to find assistance or locate a lift-assist device and that, said Flanagan, can impact the level of care the nurse can offer.  “Anything that takes a nurse away from the bedside takes away from the patient,” she said.

CNA figures show that 12 percent of nurses leave the field because of back injuries possibly related to lifting patients, while 52 percent of working nurses also complain of chronic back pain.  The group’s argument for AB 2532 was simple:  lift teams can help reduce potential back injuries for nurses and the financial expense associated with those injuries, and possibly keep workers from leaving a field that is already experiencing staffing shortages. Even Kaiser Permanente, a California health care provider and a supporter of the bill, said that it had experienced a 37 percent decrease in injuries in Southern California where it implemented a zero lift program.

But Kent Wilson, Safety Program Manager for Hill-Rom, a manufacturer of lift equipment, has a different take on measures that would require hospitals to make changes.  “First, the term

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2004-11-03.