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Who's got your back?

Working as a nurse is hard work. And it is ironic, that as primary healthcare providers, some nurses work so hard that they destroy their own health. Many of those nurses are federal employees working in the many Veterans Affairs hospitals around the country.

The cause of the damage to the nurses is not some exotic tropical disease, like Ebola, or even more common contagious illnesses that are often found in hospitals. No, the most damaging work most nurses perform is doing the heavy lifting of patients. Day in and day out, they must lift patients from beds and chairs into wheelchairs or gurneys. 

The back problems among nurses have been described as an "epidemic." But everyone knew the cause. Manually moving patients. While some hospitals had lifts in some rooms and other locations, they were little used, as they were didn't work very well and there was little training or incentive to use them.

One VA hospital has taken a more aggressive approach to reduce the number of nurses suffering back injuries. They installed lifts and tracks in all 207 patient rooms and all other locations were patients might need to be moved.

They also aggressively trained their staff to use these systems and never to lift more than 35 pounds. For moderately sized man, this may mean their leg could exceed this weight limit. It has meant a significant change in culture at the hospital, including the use of a full-time coordinator, whose job is to help the staff and importantly, managers, recognize that they must constantly work to reduce back injuries incurred by the nurses and staff.

For nurses this means fewer and less severe injuries, less time out of work and can reduce the need for workers' compensation for nurses who have suffered the long-term ill effects of lifting patients. Federal workers compensation for nurses can be expensive, and the one VA hospital saved an additional $1 million by not having to hire replacements for injured nurses.

NPR.com, "At VA Hospitals, Training And Technology Reduce Nurses' Injuries," Daniel Zwerdling, February 25, 2015

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