Nursing may not seem like a hazardous job, but it ranks among the top 11 professions in injuries and illness. Increasingly, hospitals are trying...

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Nursing may not seem like a hazardous job, but it ranks among the top 11 professions in injuries and illness.

Increasingly, hospitals are trying to find ways to prevent these injuries that can drain nursing staff and cost millions in lost productivity.

Community Health Network and Clarian Health in Indianapolis are piloting the use of lift teams, whose specially trained members, armed with state-of-the-art equipment, help patients get in and out of bed or move around in bed.

Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants rank third among the occupations for job-related injuries and illnesses, with nearly 50,000 in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Registered nurses, with 20,500 incidents a year, come in 11th.

The vast majority of injuries are back and shoulder strains, which may sideline a worker for a few days, result in a costly workers’ compensation claim or shorten a care provider’s career.

Not only is the average age of nurses increasing (now about 46), hospitals also have seen a rise in the number of heavier patients, who are more likely to cause injuries.

Those two factors led Community Health Network to create its lift team, said Eleanore Wilson, vice president of nursing.

Lift teams also may contribute to patient safety by preventing falls and helping patients get up and back on their feet sooner, which can speed healing, Wilson said.

At Community Hospital North in Indianapolis, where a lift team was introduced last June, nurses have embraced their new co-workers.

Belinda Menke, 42, a nurse for eight years, used to work through the backaches she frequently experienced, babying herself as much as possible and trying to employ proper body mechanics when she had to hoist someone.

Now, said the 5-foot-1-inch nurse, she often asks the lift team for help.

“I call them anytime I feel someone is too heavy to lift on my own or if I feel someone is a fall risk,” Menke said.

Community Health Network has hired a team of four men at salaries equivalent to the pay of a certified nurse assistant. Team members undergo three weeks of training to master lift techniques and the use of special equipment — and they are on call 12 hours a day.

Clarian’s program, the Rapid Ergonomic Lift Assistance for You, or RELAY, team is composed of 14 full- and part-time staff, also all men, and receives about 86 calls a day to provide lift assistance.

The RELAY team, formed in the second half of 2006, already is paying off for Clarian Health. In 2005, Clarian Health’s injury costs were $189,696, according to officials. The following year, costs had dipped to $56,988.