Moving intensive care patients has long been a major burden for hospital staff.
The task requires them to put patient safety first while simultaneously protecting themselves from the various injuries that can result from heavy lifting. It can also drain a hospital’s manpower, as teams of five or even six people sometimes become necessary, and shorten the careers of physical therapists and other employees. When age begins to limit their ability to lift patients, they often struggle to continue working.
For these reasons, among others, Sutter Health announced in June that it will put $11.5 million toward installing overhead patient lifts at 19 of its Northern California intensive care units and acute rehabilitation centers. Sutter invested the same amount three years ago in order to provide 21 of its affiliate sites with the lifts.
Already, the effects of the first expenditure have been palpable. According to Sutter, employee injuries attributed to lifting or repositioning patients have dropped by 50 percent since 2011. At Sutter Davis Hospital, the overhead lifts have drawn the praise of much of the staff, including physical therapist Kathy Bechtold and nurse Zaid Hiabu.
“In a hospital, you always have to be very careful because you’re working with patients who have unpredictable movements sometimes. And actually, as our population has been changing, we (have been) getting heavier patients. So, (the lifts) have been a way to move patients safely, both for the patient and for us,” Bechtold told The Enterprise.
Added Hiabu: “It’s two things: One, it’s better for the patient because you’re not pushing them or pulling them, and the other thing is that it’s better for us as well because we’re not doing heavy lifting.”
The overhead lifts consist of what the staff refers to as a sling or a repositioning sheet, an electric motor and a system of tracks that run along the ceiling of the patient’s room.
The sling supports the patients while the motor — controlled by a remote — either raises or lowers them. The tracks allow doctors to slide the patient to any area of the room in a gentle and gradual manner.
“It’s like a hoist, kind of like a crane,” Bechtold said. “We describe it to the patient as like a hammock and that’s actually what it feels like with the patient in there, so they’re very comfortable.”
The overhead lifts have served a number of purposes since their installation. Hospital staff have used them to move patients onto gurneys, lift them into bed and reposition them so as to prevent them from developing bedsores.
The lifts also have allowed patients to begin mobilization therapy while in the ICU — a proven technique for jump-starting recovery.
When working with her patients, Bechtold has used the apparatuses to transfer patients from their beds to nearby reclining chairs, where they can safely sit upright and receive therapy.
“That’s a big step for the patient to be out of that bed and into a chair,” Bechtold said. “And then for me, as a physical therapist, to mobilize them, I can actually stand a patient up safer from the chair because as they start to get up, they’re using better body mechanics. If they don’t make it, we’re sitting right back down.”
Overall, Sutter Health intends to install 1,013 overhead lifts at affiliate hospitals across its Northern California network. Bechtold said that the lifts have gained popularity not only with hospital staff, but also with patients and their families. She joked that male patients, in particular, enjoy having access to the remote.