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Handle with care

At a time when patients nationwide are getting older, sicker and heavier, nurses also are aging, with micro tears and back injuries that result from years of lifting patients. "Now we understand that it can be the fragile, 100-pound elderly woman who can be the proverbial straw that breaks the nurse's back," says Joan Forte, interim director of nursing at Stanford Hospital & Clinics.

Forte spoke to hundreds of nurses and hospital administrators at a Safe Patient Handling conference in September, telling them how her hospital has invested $3 million in technology to take better care of patients--and nurses. The investment includes eight overhead lifts, 24 mobile lifts, one lift for bariatric patients and 26 air-powered systems for moving patients from their beds to an X-ray table.

The recipient of the Veteran Administration's 2010 Best Practice Award for Safe Patient Handling, Stanford is now working with the VA and the American Nurses Association to design a template for other hospitals to use in adopting new technology and practices. "We think the new equipment will help us get patients up and out of bed and mobilized far sooner," Forte says. "And that means becoming independent and going home sooner."

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