The hospital patient is a big guy. Real big.
OK, let’s be blunt: He’s obese.
But he needs to get out of his bed so tests can be run on him in another room. A nurse is there to help him, but she’s alone and there’s no lift equipment to give her a hand.
It’s all up to her. And that’s where the danger lies.
“Often they will need to move somebody or help somebody sit or stand, and they can’t without hurting themselves,” said Dr. Chris Cunningham, UC Foundation Associate Professor of Industrial-Organizational and Occupational Health Psychology.
“There are certain things that they’re taught to do right, but in the heat of the moment, say a patient falls or needs immediate help, you can’t always do it that way,” he said.
“Nurses always are at risk for musculoskeletal issues due to improper body mechanics — injuries to neck, back, shoulder, knees in particular,” she said.
Working nurses also must deal with such hazardous issues as needle sticks, falling, even violent and uncooperative patients.
Preventing injuries of all kinds is the goal of a study Cunningham has started through the Department of Psychology and in collaboration with the safetyCures group of the Chattanooga Regional Health Innovation Coalition.
The fact that nurses get injured on the job “is not news,” he said, “but we haven’t seen a good chronicling and documentation of this.”
Such injuries cost the healthcare industry about $20 billion a year, said Cunningham, pointing to statements and evidence from governmental agencies, public health professionals and peer-reviewed studies.
“What we’re trying to do with this project is gather information from both sides, from the education said and the practice side, and start to identify: Where are these gaps — if they’re there,” he said.
“And if we do identify gaps — and we think we probably will — what can we do about it?”
At UTC, techniques to prevent injuries are part of the regular curriculum in the School of Nursing, Smith said. Skills outlined in 2007’s Quality and Safety Education for Nurses project, which looked at areas where nurses might be at risk for hurting themselves in their daily jobs, are incorporated throughout the coursework, she said.
For the study, Cunningham has reached out to healthcare providers and educators throughout the city and the region.
“We’ve spoken to three or four nursing programs regionally, another five or six to connect with and then we’re trying to line up healthcare partners,” he said. “And we’re trying to line up three or four of the hospitals in town and a couple of the private clinician practices that have fairly large nursing staffs.”
Anecdotal evidence from working nurses also is being figured into the equation, he said. Some who have returned to UTC to pursue Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees described what has happened to them while dealing with patients, he said.
“They said, ‘There’s what we’re taught and then there’s what we’re supposed to do and then there’s the reality,’” he said. “Just hearing from them tells me we’re on to something.”
But he insists the ultimate goal of the study is not to point fingers, saying ‘You’re doing it right and you’re doing it wrong.’ “The lines are too blurry to make such distinctions,” he said
“It’s not our intention right now — or at any time — to say the way it’s being taught in schools is the right way and that practices in the communities have to change,” Cunningham said. “It might be that practice is reality and education has to change.
“We’re trying to be very open-minded about it.”