Hospital eases work for 'seasoned nurses'

Goal is workplace with less reaching, minimal lift

As nurses age, keeping them safe as they lift and transfer patients becomes a greater challenge. Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, MI, has responded to that by creating a Seasoned Nurse Initiative.

It started with a task force and a focus group to find out about the workplace concerns of nurses over 45. An ergonomist then visited the floors to evaluate hazards and tailor a plan to adapt the workplace. "She spent time on every single unit with nurses looking at how they do their work, what they do, where things are stored," says Jim Fischer, RN, MS, MBA, vice president for patient care and chief nursing officer.

For example, changes in storing supplies could make them more convenient for nurses. The hospital moved electrical outlets so the nurses don't have to bend. Other equipment, such as chairs, was adjusted to the appropriate height. Gait belts were added to each patient room.

As new patient care areas are being designed or renovated, the hospital is considering putting in ceiling lifts. Meanwhile, the hospital purchased new lift equipment as well as Hill-Rom beds that fold into a chair.

"[There are] a litany of things to make the work environment better for the older nurse," says Fischer.

The task force also looked at the issue of fatigue and the older nurse, offering eight-hour shifts as well as 12-hour shifts.

Meanwhile, the hospital monitors back strains and looks for trends, says Fischer. Despite a growing patient census and workforce, the number of strains has remained stable. There were 117 in 2006, he says.

The goal is to have a minimal lift environment that leads to a reduction in strains and enables back-injured nurses to return to work, says Jan Lyon, OTR, manager of the hospital's return-to-work program. "If we have everything in place for minimal lift, nurses with restrictions will still be able to provide nursing care," she says.