Nursing staff are on the frontline when it comes to witnessing the rise in obesity in the U.S.

A few years ago, employees at Cincinnati-based Mercy Health began to regularly see patients who weighed 450 pounds and more. In conjunction, injury rates and patient handling incidents began to grow.  

“Our nurses racked up 2,470 restricted duty days, 239 lost time days, and a quarter of a million dollars in workers’ compensation costs, not to mention extra costs for temporary staff,” says Kelley Crandall, director of disability management and employee health services for Mercy Health.

The organization also saw morale drop as staff grew unhappy about working overtime to make up for the loss of their colleagues. “We also saw careers cut short due to injuries, especially as the average age of a nurse has crept up to 45,” Crandall adds.

Along with concerns for patient and employee safety, Mercy was also worried that these work injuries would be a red flag to OSHA and lead to an inspection.

So Crandall approached management about investing in equipment to help nurses move patients safely. Called LIFT, the nearly $5 million program includes tools such as ceiling lifts in all intensive care units, mobile passive lifts for dependent patients, non-mechanical devices to help patients to the bathroom, and maxislides/tubes for repositioning patients in bed.

Once the program was approved for Mercy Health’s six hospitals and six long-term care facilities, Crandall faced the challenge of selling nurses on the initiative. “The nurses were most resistant to the program,” she says. “They saw work injuries as a regular job hazard.”

Through demonstrations and training, Crandall says she convinced nurses that the equipment wouldn’t add time to their work and, in fact, was more comfortable and dignified for both nurse and patient.

Four years into the program, Mercy Health reports patient handling incidents dropped 95 percent from 135 in 2009 to six in 2012. In addition, workers’ compensation costs decreased 99 percent from $286,950 to $1849. The program’s success has led to its expansion to other health systems under Mercy’s parent company, Catholic Health Partners, including a hospital in Springfield and seven other long-term care facilities.

For more information and ideas on healthcare and bariatric design, check out Healthcare Design magazine’s July issue.