One of the major issues in nursing home facilities is the frequent heavy lifting or repositioning of residents that exceed the lifting capacity of their caregivers. Many nursing homes and assisted living facilities therefore use mechanical lifting equipment to aid in moving residents.

When properly used by trained caregivers, mechanical lifting equipment benefits residents, their caregivers, and employers. When a resident lifting program is properly established and used, everyone benefits. But when there is insufficient training for caregivers, or inadequate resident lifting policy guidelines, injuries can occur, often with serious results.

There are two main types of lifts that are used at nursing home facilities, both of which require strict adherence to safety rules. The first is a sling lift, also known as a Hoyer Lift. A Hoyer Lift allows patients in nursing home facilities to be transferred between a bed and a chair or other similar resting places, using hydraulic power.

The second type of lift used is called a sit-to-stand lift. This lift is designed to help patients with some mobility but who lack the strength or muscle control to rise to a standing position from a bed or a wheelchair.

Just how important is it that a Hoyer Lift be used properly? The simple answer: extremely important. While falls are a major concern in nursing home facilities, they are not the only risk of improper use of Hoyer Lifts. Nursing home facilities focus on caring for elderly patients. It is vital that great care be taken when dealing with elderly patients. It is well known that any injury or sickness can be much more serious if it occurs to an elderly person.

One such example is Mr. Donahue. At the age of 86, Mr. Donahue was admitted to Embassy House Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation (“Embassy House”) in Brockton, Massachusetts. The caregivers at Embassy House used Hoyer Lifts to assist when moving patients. Mr. Donahue’s care plan required the use of a sit-to-stand mechanical lift, however, a Hoyer Lift was used when moving Mr. Donahue from his wheelchair to his bed. The Hoyer Lift required two operators for safe and proper use. Unfortunately for Mr. Donahue, this requirement was not followed. A caregiver at Embassy House operated the lift by herself when moving Mr. Donahue. After Mr. Donahue had been transferred to his bed from his wheelchair, the caregiver attempted to remove the pad from under Mr. Donahue. The caregiver unhooked the left side of the sling which caused the hook to immediately strike Mr. Donahue in the head.

The severity of Mr. Donahue’s injury increased substantially as time went on. The day after receiving the injury, Mr. Donahue was rushed to the emergency room. Later that day, Mr. Donahue was transferred to another medical center for treatment and surgery. Mr. Donahue underwent surgery, at which time it was determined that his eye could not be repaired. On September 8, his eye was removed. He passed away approximately six weeks later.

Mr. Donahue’s story shows just what can happen when a Hoyer Lift is used improperly. This whole situation could have been eliminated with proper training of the staff. This is precisely why caregivers that are using such mechanical equipment every day need proper training and guidance. Without proper training, stories such as Mr. Donahue’s will continue to occur.

Aside from injuries sustained such as Mr. Donahue’s, elderly patients are always at risk of falling when Hoyer Lifts are used improperly. While a fall of a young person may have no adverse consequences, it can be life-threatening to an elderly person.

Just how serious are falls? According to the CDC:

  • About 1,800 people living in nursing homes die from falls each year.
  • Each year, a typical nursing home with 100 beds will report 100-200 falls.
  • About 10% to 20% of nursing home falls cause serious injuries; 2% to 6% cause fractures.
  • Roughly 50-75% of nursing home residents fall each year, although many falls go unreported.
  • Patients often fall more than once; the average is 2.6 falls per person per year.

The CDC has produced recommendations for facilities to follow on the safe lifting and movement of nursing home residents. To achieve the fullest possible benefit, however, facilities need to consider more than just what type of equipment to buy. Safe patient handling programs should also involve a comprehensive assessment of the nature of patient and worker needs, policies that encourage the safest techniques for handling patients, and ongoing evaluation and improvement.

If you have a loved one that is in a facility that uses lifts, don’t be afraid to ask if any of the following issues are occurring:

  • Improper Training: Improper training of nursing home staff is among the most dangerous factors contributing to nursing home injuries. When nursing home staff fails to follow proper procedures when using lifts and other mechanical devices, the resident is at extreme risk for injury. Staff members should receive adequate training to learn how to properly attach the sling, as well as how to properly seat a resident in the sling. Improper seating or assembly can result in catastrophic accidents and injuries.
  • Improper Maintenance: If the lift is not properly maintained, the device can become defective, resulting in breakage and possible injury.
  • Inadequate Staffing: Some lift models require two people to safely transport residents. Nursing home staff should never attempt to use these lifts on their own.

Asking questions about a facility’s patient handling program can help you determine if your loved one is in a safe environment. And if you or a loved one has been injured due to the use of mechanical lifting equipment, contact our offices for expert advice and representation if needed.