Preventable healthcare employee injuries raising costs in Massachusetts


State occupational health experts have told one of the most respected patient safety groups in the country that the high rate of health care employee injuries in Massachusetts is creating excessive costs.

These costs can be reduced if employers implement safe patient handling practices, they added.

The Department of Public Health presentation to Burlington-based Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors described the injuries as a "significant burden" to the healthcare field, noting that about 1,000 cases per year add up to more than 21,500 lost days.

In 2010 alone, Massachusetts healthcare workers suffered patient handling injuries so severe that they resulted in 59 years of missed days of work.

Only 44 percent of the state's hospitals have policies in place to prevent patient handling injuries, according to a DPH task force report the state experts used in their presentation. More than 70 percent of employers cite the time involved in implementing safe patient handling practices as the key barrier to providing necessary equipment to workers to prevent these injuries.

The reluctance of hospitals to act on their own makes it clear Massachusetts needs a legislative remedy to this problem, according to Beth Piknick, a past president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and Cape Cod Hospital RN who has been advocating for safe patient handling improvements since a career-derailing injury 25 years ago.

An Act relative to safe patient handling in certain health facilities is pending before the state legislature. The bill's components match virtually every safe patient handling recommendation made by the DPH task force.

"Implementing these policies and using this equipment will save millions of dollars and more thousands of lost work days for workers injured from unsafe patient handling practices," said Piknick.

"The DPH report specifies a number of steps that hospitals should take to ensure the safety of workers. As is shown in this report, the industry has failed to address this issue, and many employers voice reluctance to address the problem without strong regulation."

Massachusetts, Injuries, Department of Public Health, Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors, US