September 4, 2008

Smart Move — Ceiling Lifts Help Elevate Care, Safety for Patients, Workers at VA Hospital

By Daniel Connolly

On a recent weekday morning, attendants slid a heavy sheet of purple fabric under Occlyde Moore's back and attached it to a harness that hung from a metal beam in the ceiling.

The purple sheet became a supporting pouch as the machine hoisted Moore out of his hospital bed, like a crane plucking a cargo container from a ship. The lift maneuvered him into a sitting position as he was still in the air and attendants guided him into a wheelchair.

The device, called a ceiling lift, is meant to move patients who are too sick to move themselves.

"It's good, it's safe," said Moore, who has a spinal cord injury. "To me it's safe, because one person can do it."

The Memphis Veterans Affairs Medical Center is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to install the machines to help reduce back injuries common among nurses and other health care workers.

The installation of the lifts reflects other trends: the U.S. population is aging, hospitalized patients are sicker and more likely to need help in moving, patients must move because too much bed rest can cause potentially deadly sores and other complications.

Some factors are making it harder to move patients, including rising obesity rates that mean health care workers are moving heavier people.

At the same time, the average age of nurses is creeping upward - nationally it was nearly 47 in 2004, according to the American Nurses Association. At the Memphis VA, the average nurse is 50 years old.

"That affects our ability to just by brute force take care of patients, so we need mechanical devices to facilitate those processes," said Genwyl S. Glover, a nurse who leads the hospital's efforts to move patients safely.

Several months ago, the Memphis VA started installing ceiling lifts made by ARJO Inc. of Roselle, Ill.

The hospital has more than 30, and Glover had successfully applied for a $718,000 government appropriation to install dozens more devices in patient rooms and other key areas.

The VA, a government-run system that provides care to former members of the military, is spending $5,384 on each of the basic ceiling lifts. Supersized lifts that can haul patients who weigh as much as 1,000 pounds cost the government $8,217 each.

The lifts have a metal beam that moves back in forth in one direction and a hanging harness that slides within the beam in the other direction. The result is that the lift can reach any point in a room.

Other portable lifts can pick up patients who have fallen in the hallway and can extract patients from cars.

One of the first areas of the hospital to get the new ceiling lifts was the spinal cord unit, where Moore was staying for treatment of a skin ulcer.

The thin 76-year-old, who lives in Jackson, Miss., said he was badly hurt in a shooting in 1957, shortly after he was discharged from the Army.

He has some movement in his legs, but has become too weak to move himself in and out of bed. At home, his 78-year-old brother has to lift him.

He said he was "amazed" when he first saw the ceiling lift when he was admitted to the hospital earlier this year. Health care workers use the lift when they move him between his bed and a wheelchair.

The ceiling lift is dramatically different from what Glover encountered when she began her career as a nurse 35 years ago.

Early on, lifting patients by hand was common. The technique is still sometimes used, but it can lead to injuries if workers make mistakes, she said.

Since then, the 58-year-old nurse has used various mechanical methods to lift patients. The ceiling lifts are the latest model the VA has used widely.

Studies have indicated that the ceiling lifts cut worker injuries. Nursing aides and other health care workers are among the groups most likely to experience strains and sprains, according to The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, a publication of the ANA.

More than half of nurses complain of chronic back pain, and significant numbers leave the profession because of injury, the organization said.

Nancy L. Hughes, an occupational health specialist with the ANA, said ceiling lifts are comfortable for patients and easier for staff than other mechanical devices.

"They're the best," she said.

Ceiling lifts have been around for years - one article on their effectiveness dates to 1988. But they aren't common in Memphis.

Representatives of Delta Medical Center as well as the Baptist, Methodist and Saint Francis hospital systems said they do not have ceiling lifts, though they do have other lifting machines.

Glover said the Memphis VA hopes to use the lifts to entice nurses to choose its hospital over others.

"Because nurses come here knowing that they have state-of-the- art equipment to use, and that the likelihood of them being hurt from musculoskeletal injuries is minimal."

- Daniel Connolly: 529-5296


Occupational hazards

Health care workers suffer many injuries from lifting patients. Here is a ranking of occupations at risk for strains and sprains:

1. Truck drivers

2. Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants

3. Laborers, nonconstruction

4. Assemblers

5. Janitors and cleaners

6. Registered nurses

7. Construction laborers

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics via The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Data from 2000.


Originally published by Daniel Connolly / [email protected] .

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