Minnesota nurse testifies on health risks of lifting heavy patients

WASHINGTON — Bettye Shogren wanted Congress to know she didn’t quit bedside nursing in March of 1982, pain from an injury that is now easily preventable stopped her.

“The last shift I was able to work without excruciating pain I was assigned to care for several patients, one of whom weighed over 400 pounds,” Shogren recalled. “She required repositioning every two hours and a ‘boost up’ in bed multiple times per shift. There were not enough people to lend a hand that night so with the help of one nursing assistant, we cared for and moved her as prescribed and as needed.

“That was my last shift.”

Shogren, now an occupational health and safety specialist for the Minnesota Nurses Association, testified Tuesday in support of legislation authored by Sen. Al Franken to require patient-lifting equipment in medical care facilities.

The bill would provide $200 million in grant money to help said facilities cover the costs of buying the machines, which Franken’s office said would be made up by cost savings including in liability and workers compensation claims. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House, cosponsored by Rep. Jim Oberstar.

Equipment that helps lift patients (and prevents the chronic injuries Shogren suffered that now have her on a permanent 40-pound lift restriction) is required by law in Minnesota. However, such tools remain in sporadic use elsewhere across the country.

Patients must move in some form to avoid bed sores and similar inertia injuries. If they can’t move themselves, nurses (and full disclosure here, my mother is a nurse in San Francisco) are required to lift, turn and shift patients multiple times each shift, whether their patient is 7, 70 or 700 pounds. Sometimes nursing assistants are around to help, sometimes they’re not.

With nurses lifting as much as 1.8 tons over an eight-hour shift, advocates say it’s little surprise that more nursing aides have OSHA-recordable accidents than any other profession in Minnesota, according to records kept by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. The last available list, from 2007, also includes registered nurses in 9th place.

Later that year, the Minnesota legislature passed its lifting assistance law, one Shogren said she hopes to see duplicated on a national level.

“Continued use of manual patient handling is unsafe for health care workers and patients,” Shogren said. “It contributes to increased cost of care in an environment where we are all questioning the rising cost of health care.

“The nation needs what has been started in Minnesota.”

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