Success story: Lift teams boost the bottom line

Fewer injuries saves more than $200,000

The verdict is in on lift teams at Tampa (FL) General Hospital: They save money and backs. They win kudos from nurses. They’re here to stay.

Last year, the hospital’s modified duty days declined by 50% — a savings of at least $200,000. Patient handling injuries among nurses went down by 62%.

"We didn’t have any back surgeries last year for probably the first time ever. Our hospital has really seen a value of injury prevention," says JoAnn Shea, MSN, ARNP, director of employee health and wellness, who presented her results at the Safe Patient Handling and Movement Conference in Orlando. The conference was sponsored by the VHA Patient Safety Center at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa and the American Nurses Association in Washington, DC.

Tampa General began using lift teams about two years ago and has two teams that work from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (They overlap during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) Nurses dial a pager (332-LIFT) and punch in the code for their floor and room number. It takes about 15 minutes for the lift team to arrive.

It didn’t take long for the nurses to become accustomed to calling for a lift. "We started with 500 lifts or repositionings a month. Now we’re up to 1,800 to 2,000 a month," Shea adds.

Kassie Basnight, RN, nurse manager in surgical trauma intensive care, has seen the difference the lift teams make. "The median age in my unit is probably 40. I don’t have a high turnover rate so my nurses are just getting older," she says. "The population in my area has changed. The patients are much sicker. The medication used to sedate them makes them dead weight."

Typically, two or three nurses would be out of work at one time, going to physical therapy or on bed rest to recuperate from back strain, Basnight says. Two nurses in the unit had significant back injuries and became permanently disabled. "When that occurred, not only was it a loss for me to lose seasoned nurses, but it’s also a financial loss to the hospital and a loss for those nurses to become disabled. Because I had had the loss of those nurses, my goal was to make sure my nurses knew they were not to lift and to call the lift team."

It took a couple of weeks of diligent reminders to change the habits of nurses in the unit. Now, says Basnight, "On my day shift, they do almost no lifting or turning."

There hasn’t been a single injury on the day shift since implementation of the lift teams, she points out. Basnight’s unit celebrated the lift team with a recognition luncheon.

Meanwhile, the lift teams have contributed to nurse retention. The hospital has virtually no openings, Shea adds.

Not macho weight lifters

The lift teams are not macho weight lifters who come in to manually move patients. They rely on equipment purchased by the hospital, including four mechanical lifts on every floor, ceiling lifts in every room and the hallways of the rehabilitation center, and sit-to-stand and repositioning devices.

The hospital pays a starting salary of $10.50 an hour to the lift team members, which has helped reduce high turnover on the team, says Shea.

Shea’s goal now is to expand the lift team into the evening shift and weekends and to purchase more equipment. Her message to those considering ergonomic interventions: "It works. Everything we’ve done works."