Sights Set on Keeping Medical Staff Safe
A patient at the medical clinic may tell you he can seat himself on the exam table, when in fact he lacks the strength to hoist himself onto it. Another patient may believe she can stand unassisted only to fall when she tries. “I can tell you that you shouldn’t lift anything that is over 50 pounds,” explains Arlene Guzik,assistant medical director and vice president of operations at Largo-based Lakeside Occupational Medical Centers. “Sometimes it’s a challenge because they [the patients] can’t move themselves.”
Keeping medical staff members safe can get complicated. There aren’t any rules about how to lift patients who are aging and potentially becoming more debilitated or obese. But educating staff members on appropriate lifting and moving techniques is advisable. “It’s very, very different in health care than it is in the distribution and manufacturing world. You are dealing with the unknown,” Guzik says.
Lakeside operates 14 occupational medical centers in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk and Orange counties, including one in Lakeland and one in Bartow.The company works with employers to maintain healthy and safe workplaces by providing consulting, health screening, training, protection, and medical services.
Guzik advises that clinic staff members should know their patients – their ages, their mental conditions – and gather family input that may assist them in evaluating patients’ capabilities. “It’s important to know your patient and sometimes that’s not possible,”Guzik adds.”Erring on the side of caution is best.”
Protecting staffers actually begins earlier – during hiring. Verycompetent people aware of regulatory requirements in their area of expertise reduce risk, she says. A receptionist trained as a medical assistant several years ago may be able to assist patients in and out of wheelchairs, but she may not be abreast of the latest safety standards. She also adds, “A clinic manager has to be very, very aware of the rules and regulations.”
It is important to identify risk, train workers, and protect them. “It’s not only needles. It’s appropriate disposal of needles, proper disposal of waste, goggles and gowns to protect from splashes and spills,” she says.
Needle sticks may be the most common problem in medical clinics, but risks can be reduced by safety needle devices like retracting needles or those where you flip up the cap one-handed. “It’s pretty important to get those,” she asserts.
Employers need to at least offer Hepatitus B vaccinations; employers also are advised to test annually for tuberculosis. But screening forHuman immunodeficiency virus (HIV)is limited to instances where there have been needle sticks or other exposures.
“The standard in health care is universal precaution. You essentially treat every individual as if they were infectious,” she explains. “You focus on protecting yourself.”
If a staff member has a patient bleed or vomit all over him or her, the incident should be reported immediately so the worker can be examined. There are protective medicines and procedures that can quickly determine if the employee is at risk, she says.
She emphasizes the importance of knowing U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations and following them. While OSHA has traditionally focused on the construction, manufacturing and distribution industries, it now has turned its focus on health care facilities, she says.
OSHA officials can show up at any time and you cannot prevent it. “If you are not able to demonstrate compliance you will receive a citation from OSHA,” she says. “It could or could not be associated with fines.”
Here are some additional tips to consider:
* Abiding by state regulatory standards should keep employees safe from radiation risks.The rules require for maintenance and inspection, protective shields and dose symmetry badges that monitor exposure, she says.
* Establishing rules in advance also are important in the event of violence or threats of violence from patients or other office visitors. But it’s up to the each clinic to have policies about who to call internally and when to notify law enforcement.
* Since there are no professional standards for dealing with stress, she suggests a list of community resources for family assistance when times are rough. “What you can do is focus on having a healthy and safe workplace that is conducive to good performance,” she advises. Additionally, an employer cannot control where else a staff member works, which is something that can contribute to burnout. “There is a high rate of people [ . . .] working two jobs,” she observes. “Focus on the performance of the worker while they are working for you.”
story by CHERYL ROGERS