A patient with a spinal cord injury is dropped and injured by nurses and aides in their attempt to transfer him from his wheelchair onto a nonadjustable clinical examination table. A woman with cerebral palsy, disrobed for treatment of cervical cancer, is embarrassed and humiliated when she is lifted by uniformed and armed hospital security guards onto a clinical procedure table. A physician ruptures a cervical disc while lifting a patient onto an examination table. The mother of an adult daughter with severe disabilities risks her own and her daughter's safety when she tries to transfer her daughter from a wheelchair onto an examination table because no trained staff are available to assist.
For years, people with mobility disabilities, as well as their family members and assistants and attending medical staff, have sustained physical and psychological injuries and have been deterred from access to quality health care because of the absence of hospital policies requiring training of personnel in safe lifting techniques and assuring that patients are informed of, and have a voice in, lifting and transfer options. That situation is about to change. On July 14, 2011, Illinois Governor Quinn signed into law Public Act 97–0122, which amended the Illinois Hospital Licensing Act to require implementation of such policies.
The amendments will require hospitals to adopt and implement policies to train nurses and other hospital staff on safe lifting techniques, evaluate ways to reduce risks of injury, foster the existence and availability of a trained safe–lifting team, advise patients of manual and mechanical lifting and transferring options, and document an individualized patient plan for lifting, transferring, and repositioning that includes the patient's choice among the range of options. The new law represents a “win–win” for both medical workers and patients with disabilities in fostering greater protections from injuries for both groups of individuals.
The patient–centered aspects of the new law place Illinois in the vanguard among states that have enacted safe–lifting laws. Unsafe lifting can not only cause skin, muscular, and bone injuries among patients. Other negative features include anxiety from the fear of falling or being dropped, loss of dignity from awkward lifting procedures, lengthy waits to be moved in order to receive treatment, or avoidance altogether of needed health care. For the first time in Illinois, the new law empowers patients with disabilities to know and understand their options, to communicate which lifting and moving techniques work best for them, and to have their preferences honored to the extent possible.
The safe–lifting law reflects Access Living's fundamental goal of advancing independence and dignity among people with disabilities. Access Living worked to draft these amendments in collaboration with the Illinois Multiple Sclerosis Society, Illinois Hospital Association, Illinois Nurses Association, and American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The amendments were presented in two identical bills presented to each chamber; primary sponsors were Senator Linda Holmes and Representative Esther Golar.