Workers who care for residents in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities may manually lift and transfer residents—from a bed to a chair, for example—more than 20 times a day. This arduous labor has its consequences: the rates of worker injuries in the long-term care industry are amongst the highest in the health care sector. Mechanical lift equipment can decrease the rates of injury and lessen worker compensation costs. However, the presence of such equipment in a facility does not ensure it is used and used correctly. This Commonwealth Fund–supported study examined the effect of safe-lifting programs on workers’ compensation claim frequency and costs in long-term care facilities in 23 states.
What the Study Found
The researchers devised a “safe lift index score” that measured whether a facility had policies and procedures regarding mechanical lifts, if certified nursing assistants received training in the use of such equipment, and the preferences of directors of nursing regarding using lifts, among other variables. The study found that the higher the safe lift index score, the lower the claims and costs. An increase of one mechanical lift per 100 residents is associated with a 5 percent decrease in claims frequency and an 11 percent decrease in total costs, on average. Barriers to lift use included physical impediments, like the difficulty of using lifts in residents’ bathrooms, as well as other issues, such as residents’ fears about falling during a lift.
The mere presence of mechanical lifts in a facility does not ensure their use. Comprehensive policies and procedures regarding lift use, training of workers, and the preferences and beliefs of directors of nursing are all important components of safe-lifting programs and in ultimately reducing workplace injuries and lowering compensation costs.