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A Much-Needed Lift
Hopkins Hospital’s recent acquisition transfers patients from vehicles to wheelchairs with ease.

blank Rodney Speaks and Jillian Detheradge assist Elizabeth Barnes with transfer from car to wheelchair. Barnes comes in monthly from Washington, D.C. for a clinic appointment.
Rodney Speaks and Jillian Detheradge assist Elizabeth Barnes with transfer from car to wheelchair. Barnes comes in monthly from Washington, D.C. for a clinic appointment.

For myriad patients arriving each day at the outpatient center’s main entrance, Rodney Speaks is the first to lend a hand. And though the corporate security guard has taken pride in his decade-long Hopkins career, he’d been deeply troubled by his inability to assist certain patients—those who needed to be lifted from their car to a wheelchair.

Because of recent Maryland legislation requiring hospitals to establish a safe-lifting committee to prevent harm to employees, Speaks had to call for additional trained help. And that usually meant long waits until clinical staff could break free from other duties. “It always made me feel bad,” he says, “like we didn’t want to help.”

The problem came to a head one day last summer when Anna Rice, director of nursing for ambulatory care, learned that a woman had been in tears after waiting an hour for assistance. Two similar stories followed. “People are coming to outpatient visits sicker and more disabled,” says Rice, who brought the issue to the lift committee’s attention. “These waits were a big dissatisfier—understandably so. We had to do something.”

That something turned out to be a portable lift, piloted last July. With the touch of a button, the device, which can accommodate up to 350 lbs., swoops down into a patient’s car. After the patient is assessed by a clinical team member, the security officer then slides the patient into a sling, secures the straps and presses another button and—voila!—as the clinical assistant stands guard, the lift raises the patient into the air and places him or her gently into the adjacent wheelchair.

“It’s like cutting butter with a hot knife,” says Speaks of the device. “The patients love it. They’re surprised at how easy it is, and it saves our backs.” Meanwhile, he adds, wait times have been substantially reduced.

Co-chaired by Judy Rhode, director of nursing for Neurosciences and Psychiatry, and John Schaefer, associate director for Health, Safety and Environment, the hospital’s lift committee brainstorms on how to limit the manual lifting of patients to reduce strain on caregivers’ backs, shoulders and necks while avoiding potential patient injury. (Johns Hopkins Bayview and Howard County General have their own lift committees.) The Hopkins Hospital group includes representatives and frontline staff from Nursing, Corporate Security, Escort Services, the Outpatient Center, Service Excellence, Patient Relations, Purchasing, Clinical Engineering, Health, Safety and Environment, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Human Resources.

Together they craft procedures and evaluate lifting devices to be used during hospital stays for those who have trouble with walking or balance. The group is also charged with planning for mounted ceiling lifts above patients’ beds in the new clinical towers, as well as for additional portable lifts in the main hospital.

And, despite the large number of people involved, says Rice, the result has been a coordinated effort that’s worked seamlessly, from the moment a patient schedules an appointment. But should the need suddenly arise, a detailed protocol is now in place.

Paying closer attention to access has become vital as more patients arrive by private ambulance and assisted transportation. Unlike the scenario a decade ago, many patients come from long-term care facilities, rehab programs or nursing homes for appointments, notes Amanda Llewellyn, assistant administrator for clinical operations. “We’re constantly reviewing the landscape as traditional care models change,” she says. To facilitate access to clinic rooms with narrow doorways, a smaller, more mobile, ambulance stretcher has been purchased.

The lift has been so successful that the committee is recommending the device for the main entrance and many other locations. In addition, several Johns Hopkins Community Physicians offices have expressed an interest in purchasing a lift.

“People with disabilities are much more mobile these days,” says John Schaefer, associate director of Health, Safety and Environment. “Making sure we can get them out of a vehicle safely is critical.” At the same time, he adds, nurses are getting older, and, reflecting a national trend, patients are getting heavier, increasing the risk of muscle strain. “Many clinical people don’t report their aches and pains, accepting them as part of the job,” says Schaefer. “We need to change the culture so that we avoid manual lifting at all costs.”




Johns Hopkins Medicine

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