News & Events

Giving Staff and Patients a Lift


“All it took was one time.”

“I was in a hurry.”

These phrases come up often when staff members talk about how they were injured while lifting a patient. Whether early in their careers or seasoned veterans, they knew the importance of using proper lifting techniques, getting assistance from co-workers and using available equipment to help lift a patient. But they were injured in lifting a patient because their body was slightly incorrectly positioned or they didn’t wait for help or trust the equipment. Some of these staff members required surgery and others were not able to return to their jobs after the injury.

Enter the Safe Patient Handling Team—a group of employees from across the Medical Center dedicated to preventing these injuries. The team has worked for two years to craft a Minimal Lift Policy and Procedure that represents a shift in culture for our staff—moving employees away from physically lifting patients and toward using tools to do the lifting.

Right Tools and Training

Along with the policy, we must have the right tools in place and train staff to use them. In early December, every medical/surgical unit, Tufts Medical Center 7 and Ambulatory, received new, easy-to-use portable mechanical lifts that can safely move a patient from bed to chair or commode with just two staff members; this process used to often take four or more staff members. In the event of a fall, the lifts can even pick up a patient from the floor. The sling used to safely cradle the patient stays with that patient until discharge, then is thrown away.

Super Users Lead Change

Professional Development is leading the staff training, beginning with 60–70 “super users” who have experience operating the lifts. They are now educating their colleagues and championing the cause.

“This [super user] model is very important in helping to change practice and behavior,” said Diane Gillis, Director of Professional Development for Patient Care Services. “We are ahead of most other hospitals in Boston.”

Among the first to be trained to use the lifts: 22 new clinical care technicians.

Addressing Staff Concerns

Listening and responding to staff concerns is an important step in organizational acceptance of the new lifting tools. Some of our medical/surgical units had an older lift model, but staff were worried that the slings were too narrow to hold a patient in a stable, secure way. The Safe Patient Handling Team chose the new lifts to address those concerns.

In addition, our ICUs have lifts built into the ceilings. The Safe Patient Handling Team learned some staff had become wary of using these lifts because the bleach used to launder the slings weakened the material. Tufts MC bought new slings and changed the way they are washed, helping staff re-build trust in their equipment.

The lifts are just one piece of available equipment; staff can also use a slide board or Hovermatt to move a patient between bed and stretcher. Both make it easier to slide the patient instead of lifting.

“We want to practice safe lifting, for both our staff and our patients,” said Clinical Instructor Carol Gorham, RN, a super user for the lifts and a member of the Patient and Family Advisory Council. “Patients of size worry our staff members will accidentally drop them or even hurt themselves while trying to help the patient move from the bed to a chair or get up to use the bathroom.”

The use of mechanical lifts or other equipment makes sure everyone, patients and staff, is safe and comfortable—well worth the shift in our culture.