Apr 3, 2014
Health care workers in New York are celebrating the new Safe Patient Handling Act that was passed as part of the state's budget.
It's a big win for CWA Locals 1168, 1133, 1126, 1122, 1115 and other health care union activists who have been engaged in this policy fight for years. The legislation directs the Department of Health to create a statewide committee to study the best practices for using equipment to lift, transfer and reposition health care patients and residents. In following years, all hospitals, nursing homes, diagnostic treatment centers and clinics will implement plans for their own facilities.
Health care workers from CWA locals and other unions rally in Albany for legislation on safe patient handling and safe staffing.
"Safe patient handling not only improves worker safety, it improves patient outcomes," said Dana McCarthy, director of health and safety for CWA Local 1168. "In industry and construction, no one thinks to ask someone to lift more than 40 pounds. But routinely, health care workers are almost commanded to do so. With this bill, they at least have a channel to say, 'No, I'm not going to do that unsafe lifting.'"
Sarah Buckley, legislative-political action director for CWA Local 1168, said, "What's really striking, when you look at the facts, is that health care workers lift 1.8 tons per an 8-hour shift."
Safe patient handling also improves continence and patient dignity.
"Without equipment, you're sometimes being yanked one way or another. Seeing people struggle to move you around is awkward at best and humiliating and shameful at worst," said Buckley.
The idea behind the legislation started percolating in 2002, and started gaining steam when Kaleida Health, the largest healthcare provider in Western New York employing 5,000 CWA members, instituted safe patient handling in an effort to curb workers' compensation claims. By 2005, the labor-management committee had implemented a policy and purchased new equipment and beds.
In 2007, a state senator whose mother was in a Kaleida-run facility witnessed the practice first hand and introduced a bill to make safe patient handling mandatory throughout New York.
But it didn't pass right away. Along with the Western New York Council on Occupation Safety and Health, CWA activists placed hundreds of phone calls to the governor, lobbied their lawmakers in Albany and launched letter-writing campaigns. CWA was also one of the founding members of the New York State Zero Lift Task Force, which brought together healthcare workers, administrators, patient advocates, union representatives and safety and health professionals to create a safe environment for patients and healthcare workers by eliminating strenuous manual lifting tasks involved in transferring and repositioning patients.
Finally this year, with more than 100 co-sponsors in the Democratic majority Assembly, language was added to the state budget.