Last spring, a consultant visited Waldo County General Hospital to examine its safe patient handling program, which prevents injuries to patients and to the staff assisting them. The consultant was hired by Synernet Initiative, which provides high-quality, cost-efficient solutions for administrative services in the health-care industry.

Members of the hospital’s Safe Patient Handling task force had been working for several years to develop safety policies and procedures, assure an adequate inventory of equipment for use in patient transfers, and implement ongoing education on safe handling of patients for all departments.

In his report, the consultant praised the progress of WCGH in getting its “excellent” program in place and for its remarkably low workers’ compensation injury rates over the past three years. He then wrote that the hospital would be given approximately $18,000 to spend to upgrade its program.

The consultant found that WCGH had already achieved level I of a safe patient handling program and the grant award was to be used to bring the program to level II. Among the items to be purchased were more patient lifts and transfer equipment for the emergency room, radiology department, patient rooms and the physical therapy department.

In May, nine employees from the hospital attended Patient Handling Specialist training to discuss how to reduce injuries related to the transferring and moving of patients. They were among more than 125 employees from 15 Maine hospitals at the training session.

According to Lee Cyr, director of insurance services at Synernet, patient handling is the leading cause of injuries among health-care workers. In fact, in the past three years, more than $1.8 million was spent on direct claim costs for health-care workers.

Cyr said, “Nurses are taught patient first, and themselves second. For years, they’ve suffered with lifting patients manually and repositioning patients manually. That’s just been the culture of health-care workers for centuries, and we’re trying to change that culture.”

Attending the training from WCGH were CNAs Pam Ripley, Janice Boetsch and Sherri Littlefield; RNs Louise Gardner, Kris Shula and Eileen Wolper; Physical Therapist Donna Hills; and Rapunzel Overlock and Pat Blake.