I n recent months several of our nursing staff have succumb to lower back injuries which were sustained while caring for obese patients. The injuries have resulted in several sick days for these individuals which translates into schedule shortfalls and the use of valuable sick time. The lost work time for these nurses may be viewed as a nice respite from the trenches of acute care medicine by some, but it's not a vacation for those members that are out of commission and in pain. One of our nurses has been out of work since last summer - several months.
The scheduling burden this causes is significant to say nothing of the cost of unproductive time. Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on low back pain. It is the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work. Back pain is the second most common neurological ailment in the United States — only headache is more common.
Healthcare providers are especially vulnerable to back injuries due to the nature of their job. Annual training about proper body mechanics and the use of lifting aids has helped solve some of today's lifting issues for nurses and other healthcare providers but more needs to be done. Over at Grumpy RN the blog host tells a story about his latest patient interaction with a large patient. He has back troubles from lifting so many patients over years and now in an effort to preserve his back he has adopted a no lift policy. Clearly this poses some hurdles with respect to carrying out job responsibilities.
A couple of key issues are very relevant here. The healthcare work force with respect to nursing is aging. Most of us that continue to work as clinical nurses are in our fourth decade of life somewhere. We don't bend and move like we used to and lets face it, some things are just a little bit harder to do these days.
Secondly the size of our patient population is exploding. Each year it seems that there are fewer patients that are close to or at their ideal body weight. The vast majority of patients both men and women far exceed the 200 pound barrier. Many of these over sized patient can't even reposition themselves in a bed. Several of them have great difficulties with personal hygiene and most of them have several co-morbidities as a result of their size.
Caring for this population is demanding to say the least. The healthcare industry has come out with wheelchairs for one that will actually fit two or three normal sized people. Commodes that have wide base leg supports, beds on wheels that actually require several people to push them when there is a patient in them due to the size, and a host of lifting aids.
The sad fact is that many hospitals don't have a good answer to caring for these large patients. Even with the use of lifting devices and over sized beds, providing quality care to these patients is, well dangerous for the provider. In line with my fellow blogger at Grump RN I will not attempt to lift certain patients because of their size and the risk it poses to my back. Even with proper body mechanics and assistive devices injuries can still occur. If our society continues to crave and indulge, living a life of excess than these patients will find themselves in situations where they will not be able to be cared for.