Risk to nurses in lifting patients grows along with America's waistlines

Hospitals continue to adjust to better treat overweight and obese patients, but are falling short when it comes to installing machinery to help nurses lift or move patients, according to an article in the International Business Times.

Fewer than a quarter of U.S. hospitals and healthcare facilities have ceiling lifts or other devices to move patients, according to the nonprofit Public Citizen, even though two-thirds of adults are classified as overweight or obese. And the number could be as low as 3 percent, said the nonprofit, which published a report on safe patient handling in July.

That report noted that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) said back in 1994 said that no worker should lift more than 51 pounds, and that healthcare workers should lift no more than 35 pounds because loads are unstable.

But nurses and other healthcare workers continue to injure themselves, with lifting and moving patients listed as the top risk factor for on-the-job injuries by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, too, has noted that rising obesity rates are increasing physical demands on caregivers, the article said.

Only 11 states have Safe Patient Handling laws that require patient-lifting equipment, the publication reported.

Expense may be one reason that hospitals are slow to purchase equipment that could minimize the risk of injuries. Ceiling lifts can cost $16,000, the article noted, and mobile lifts average $6,000, costs that can be a show-stopper for smaller or financially challenged hospitals.

Other hospitals are rebuilding from the ground up to accommodate heavier patients. The new Parkland Hospital in Dallas has 862 single-patient rooms able to accommodate obese patients, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

In Indiana, Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospital's Midwest Bariatric Institute has purchased larger blood pressure cuffs, sturdier waiting room chairs, wider wheelchairs, and stronger operating room tables and MRI units to help support heavy patients. Doctors' offices and the same-day surgery center also are being upgraded with equipment able to accommodate obese patients, which officials said improves patient safety and preserves patient dignity.

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- here's the article