Headlines from the Hill

In an effort to promote policies and legislation in support of the elimination of manual patient lifting, ANA launched the ANA Handle with Care® Campaign in 2003. In 2009, ANA established the Handle with Care Recognition Programtm to recognize healthcare facilities that have had a safe patient-handling program in place for at least 3 years and meet high standards for program evaluation, planning, policy, and training.

Since the introduction of the Handle with Care Campaign in 2003, ANA has been leading the fight on behalf of RNs, healthcare workers, and patients at the federal and state levels. Nurses have long suffered from disabling back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders that result primarily from lifting, transferring, and repositioning patients using manual techniques. The extent of musculoskeletal disorders among the U.S. nursing workforce is particularly distressing when considered in the context of the current nursing shortage. Specifically, injuries secondary to patient-handling tasks compound factors driving the shortage, such as aging of the nursing workforce, declining retention and recruitment rates, and lowering of the social value of nursing. The nation-now facing a serious nursing shortage-can no longer afford to lose the nurses who leave the profession annually due to musculoskeletal injuries and pain.

On the federal level, ANA has come out in strong support of “The Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2009” (H.R. 2381/S. 1788), sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) in the House and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) in the Senate. For more than a decade, ANA has supported the use of an Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standard for safe patient handling and movement, rather than voluntary guidelines for healthcare facilities. The Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2009 would accomplish that, and would expand the standard to healthcare facilities not covered by OSHA. Moreover, the bill would protect all healthcare workers, not just direct-care RNs.

ANA is also supporting House Resolution (H. Res.) 510, introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY). This resolution encourages safe patient-handling and movement methods and recognizes that manual patient lifting is associated with high rates of injuries for healthcare workers. Both H.R. 2381/S. 1788 and H. Res. 510 would help improve patient safety and protect RNs and other healthcare workers from debilitating injuries that could force them from their professions. ANA will continue to work to advance these bills through the 111th Congress.

Prompted by the ANA campaign, 10 state legislatures have taken action to address safe patient handling: Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington. The majority of states passed laws with a comprehensive programmatic approach, requiring a health facility-wide committee to establish patient-handling policy, provide recommendations for equipment purchase, and coordinate staff training and program evaluation. Some states extend protections for nurses and other healthcare workers with the right to refuse to perform or be involved in patient handling that the nurse believes in good faith will expose the patient, nurse, or other healthcare worker to an unacceptable risk of injury, without fear of retaliation.

Another approach is that of a state-wide demonstration project first enacted in New York in 2005, which provides funds for healthcare facilities interested in establishing a safe patient-handling program. Ohio law created the long-term care loan fund program, providing loans without interest to nursing homes for the purpose of purchasing or upgrading equipment, or both, as well as supporting the cost of staff education and training. Attempts to expand this program to acute care have failed thus far.

Hawaii passed a House Concurrent Resolution in 2006 calling for the state legislature to support the policies contained in ANAís Handle with Care campaign. The heightened attention to the issue resulted in a programmatic approach with the introduction of a bill (H.B. 440/S.B. 579) during the 2009 legislative session. Consideration will continue, as the bill has been carried over to the 2010 session.

ANA has launched a new website to promote support for safe patient handling: www.ANASafePatient Handling.org. ANA strongly encourages RNs to write their members of Congress, share their stories, and join the safe patient-handling team.

Rachel M. Conant is an associate director in ANA’s Department of Government Affairs; Janet Haebler, MSN, RN, is the associate director of State Government Affairs in ANAís Department of Government Affairs.

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