- Associated Press - Saturday, May 3, 2014

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) - National observances are a dime a dozen, fighting to claim a spot on the calendar as their own, with platforms as solid as National Sister’s Day and as iffy as Zucchini Bread Day.

Nurses, however, are an undeniable cut above the fray, earning the right to their own week beginning May 6 - and for good reason. Nurses are the ultimate “human doings,” coordinating patient care, juggling more patients and unsavory tasks than the average person can handle, often as the unsung hero behind a medical group, hospital or individual physician’s amply lauded success.

As industrious and necessary as they are, who will consider nurses as human beings?

An aggressive safety initiative in place at the Beckley Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center is considering patients but also the toll taking care of them can take on a nurse physically. For instance, nurses lift an average of 1.8 tons every shift.

“That equates to a hippo a day,” states Diana Smith, Restorative Nurse Coordinator and Safe Patient Handling Coordinator and a nurse since 1985, who is no stranger to her share of physical injury, a common collateral to her profession.

“I worked home health and was caring for a lady who was bedfast. The daughter and I were turning her mother to do wound care. The daughter quit lifting her share and all of the weight shifted to me.”

Smith’s lower back bore the brunt of impact and suddenly went numb. She underwent physical therapy to be restored to normal functioning. Now, she is the point person working with two certified restorative nursing assistants trained in lift technology and changing the way nurses lift and move patients, also part of a national Veterans Health Administration safety initiative intended as much for nurses as it is for patients.

Matthew Gavin, a nursing assistant for 25 years, is one on the VAMC team who has become an expert in using motorized ceiling lifts and other devices to assist patient movement and to incorporate in bedside therapy.

His training of other nurses includes using the latest technology in shifting patients from the bed to chair, from chair to standing and back to the bed again, what sounds so simple but can quickly turn hazardous when the equivalent of even 110 pounds suddenly sandbags a nurse’s frame.

Another scenario to consider is the patient who becomes combative mid-transition, an especially distinct possibility for nurses working with an aging population.

The frequency of injuries and musculoskeletal disorders from the nursing profession have prompted the American Nurses Association to take the stance that no manual patient handling is safe patient handling. The ANA has developed national standards to help hospitals incorporate programs to ensure safer mobility of patients to protect nurses.

“With the ANA’s standards published in 2013, they will push to where there will be a national standard for safe patient handling programs, even outside of the VAMC,” Smith said, adding that she is proud the VA proactively embraced the cause nearly six years ago.

“At one of the conferences I went to for training, the point was made that if you go to a grocery store, they don’t carry products in anymore - they have forklifts for that. Autobody shops don’t manually lift. Nursing was the last profession to use lifting devices. Now, with new technology, we are ahead of everybody in safety,” adds Gavin.

Nichole Hylton, also a restorative nursing assistant and a trainer to nurses on how to use lifts and slings for patient handling and mobility, discusses how easy it is for a patient to become an accidental threat to those assisting.

“For patients who have had a total hip or knee really replacement, they are scared as soon as they experience more pain with weight bearing. Sometimes a little is too much for them and any little thing can go wrong and the unexpected happens.”

Story Continues →