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June 9, 2021

4 phases of a safe patient handling program

Michael Rivas

Healthcare workers, like nurses and certified nursing assistants, experience a higher rate of injuries compared to other industries like construction or manufacturing. To minimize risk, senior and residential care communities should have an effective safe patient handling program.

Senior living organizations can enhance their safe patient handling programs using mechanical lifts, increased staff training and formalized programs. Proper staff training will reduce the number of employee injuries related to transfers. Formalization of safe patient handling programs will increase staff compliance with mechanical lifts and safe patient transfer techniques.

The safe patient handling program consists of four phases each with its own focus: 

1. Evaluation and Introduction: This phase consists of an evaluation of the mechanical lifts currently in place, the patient acuity, and layout of the facility. During the first phase, new products are introduced to the staff to gain buy-in. In collaboration with staff and management, recommendations are made to purchase or properly assign equipment to specific units. Questions and concerns are addressed to ensure all parties are confident with moving forward with the program. 

2. Formalized Policy and Procedure: The policy includes directives for departmental responsibilities and staff requirements. During this second phase, the introduction is presented from a top-down approach. First, by obtaining upper management support. Then, by the department head for education and finally frontline staff buy-in. The frontline staff is typically given a two-week grace period to comply with the new policy without any disciplinary consequence. Communication procedures are implemented, equipment maintenance checklists are assigned, and sanitizing/laundering instructions and logs are provided.

3. Identify and Train Champions: The third phase is the most labor-intensive of all the phases. Product champions are identified and complete a one-day course that covers patient transfer assessments, staff training, proper use of the mechanical lifts and proper documentation. Once the champions have been trained, the frontline nursing staff is required to complete competencies on one-person, sit-to-stand, and total lift transfers. 

4. Post-Implementation Evaluation: The management team and product champions reassess program compliance, equipment, communication systems, staff feedback, and patient acuity and concerns. During this phase, any modifications that may be required are implemented. To support this theory, skilled nursing home chains were measured for employee injuries related to patient transfers both pre- and post-implementation. The findings supported a reduction of OSHA recordable injuries by 89-97 percent related to resident transfers. 

Interested in more details about how a safe patient handling program can help your senior living organization? Contact your local Marsh & McLennan Agency representative to walk through safety resources and best practices today.