MARCH 27, 1995 VOLUME 2, NUMBER 38
While significant attention has been paid to injuries sustained by nursing home residents lately, little has been said about injuries to staff members. A recent Wall Street Journal article described in some detail the kinds of problems aides in nursing homes may face.
According to the WSJ, “nursing homes have become more dangerous to workers in recent years with an increase in residents who are sicker and less independent than in the past.” By far the largest number of injuries are caused by lifting residents to and from their beds, and to and from the bathroom. In many (perhaps most) facilities, aides may perform dozens of lifts a day, often unassisted.
According to Bureau of Labor statistics, “nursing care facilities” average 17.3 injuries per 100 workers per year. The logging and construction industries experience 13.8 and 12.2 injuries per 100 workers, respectively. Industries with higher injury rates than nursing homes include meat processing (27.6) and motor vehicle manufacturing (24.0).
One contributor to the problem, according to the WSJ, is the fact that nursing home aides nationally earn an average of $6.30 per hour. With wages at those levels, aides often feel that they can not afford to skip work to recover from minor injuries.
Many facilities utilize mechanical lifts to reduce the number of back strains. But many in the industry resist the use of machines which are usually viewed as impersonal, and which convey an undesirable factory-like feeling.
In the face of the growing problem, some facilities have developed a comprehensive program to reduce injuries. Such a program may rely partially on mechanical lifts and partly on rules requiring two or more aides to perform a non-mechanical lift. Some facilities have also added provisions for slightly injured workers to perform light duty work rather than be sent home.
One such facility cited by the WSJ, the Kennebec Long Term Care facility in Augusta, Maine, reported a dramatic reduction in its injury rate when a comprehensive program was implemented. Among its 270 workers, Kennebec had lost 573 workdays in 1991 to injuries. After the program was in place, the number of lost workdays dropped to 25 in 1994. But the costs of the program were also substantial; Kennebec paid approximately $60,000 for 12 new mechanical lifts for its 245 residents as part of the program.
Meanwhile, the problem continues to grow worse. Today’s rate of injuries among nursing home aides represents a 55% increase since 1983, and the trend is expected to continue as the number of nursing home residents and the severity of their illnesses increases.