Ontario’s Patient Lift Initiative: early findings

Nearly 14,000 new mechanical patient lifts for health-care settings have been funded by Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. As part of its Patient Lift Initiative, the ministry committed about $80 million between 2004 and 2006 to purchase and install these lifts and to train health-care staff in their use.

The Institute for Work & Health was selected to evaluate the impact of this initiative. The final results of this evaluation will be available in summer 2007, but some early findings on the current status of this workforce have already emerged.

The initiative provided funding for one patient lift per 10 beds in long- term facilities. Before the initiative, there was approximately one lift per 20 beds.

The research team has interviewed 893 caregivers in 53 facilities. More than nine in 10 caregivers were female. Almost 80 per cent said their work was "demanding" or "very demanding." On average, caregivers had performed about 38 patient lifts or transfers in the previous eight-hour shift. More than half of these tasks were done without any equipment.

In the previous 12 months, 17 per cent had reported a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) to the WSIB, and 20 per cent had missed work. Almost half (44 per cent) had visited a health-care provider about their pain, and 61 per cent had experienced pain.

Among those experiencing pain, 73 per cent believed the cause was resident lifting and transferring. Repetitive movements were attributed as a cause of pain for 60 per cent of caregivers. 

These initial findings will be compared to the situation of caregivers after the lifts have been installed, with approximately a year between interviews. The research team will evaluate if healthcare providers perform more handling tasks with the new equipment, if there are fewer formal reports of MSDs, and if the incidence of bed sores in residents declines.

As part of the study, researchers are looking at facility policies and procedures, workloads and health outcomes. As well, they will examine workers’ compensation claims for all 590 long- term care facilities for five years prior to the lift initiative (2000-2004) and for the two-year intervention period (2005-2006).

Participation in the study was high and was well-received. “Overall [the study] was a good experience for our facilities and it helped to reinforce our zero lift policy,” noted one facility manager. "Staff gained a heightened awareness of safety and realized the policies and practices we are using a, re for their benefit.

Source: At Work, Issue 48, Spring 2007: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto