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Northwell staffers compete in Safe Patient Handling Olympics


Safely lifting and moving patients is a core function for health care providers. Doing it properly is not only vital to delivering a positive patient experience, but for the well-being of the workers themselves.

In an effort to share best practices and raise awareness for an important everyday task, Northwell Health's Center for Learning and Innovation (CLI) and Patient Safety Institute hosted an event where teams throughout the health system showcased their skill and dexterity in what was dubbed the "Safe Patient Handling Olympics."

"People don't realize how dangerous it is to work in a hospital because we're always moving patients," said Paul M. Power, director of workforce safety for Northwell, the department that sponsored the event.

Northern Westchester Hospital brought home the gold medal in safe patient handling. Teams from Staten Island University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Forest Hills brought home silver and bronze medals respectively. Teams were comprised of nurses, nurses' assistants, occupational and physical therapists.

The event was designed to be a fun and creative way to demonstrate safe and proper patient handling techniques that benefit both patients and health care workers. One in three injuries to health care workers are caused by moving, and the majority of those involve the back, according to the Department of Labor. Nearly three quarters of musculoskeletal disorders (injuries that affect the human body's movement and can involve muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and discs) are sustained by nursing staff.

"The average health care worker manually lifts 1.8 tons per eight-hour shift," explained Power. "That's equal to lifting one sedan per shift."

To that end, hospital teams of five members competed in four events using motorized lifts and other devices to safely transition Northwell employees acting as patients in the following scenarios: laterally from a gurney to a bed; from a chair to a bed; from a bed to a chair; and off of the floor.

As the teams competed, they were judged by a nurse and occupational therapist as well as the patient actor who scored them on their transport and interpersonal skills.

In 2014, New York State passed the Safe Patient Handling Law that requires health care facilities to establish safe patient handling programs. The law recognizes that safe patient handling programs can reduce the risk of injury, protect patient dignity, improve quality of care, increase patient satisfaction and enhance caregiver morale.

For Constance Modzelewski, employee health manager at Syosset Hospital and a nurse for 42 years, the Olympics is the perfect way to showcase the importance of proper body mechanics and using technology for safety's sake.

"We sacrificed our backs for the profession," said Ms. Modzelewski, who educates others at her hospital through the safe patient handling program. "Now, hopefully, we can save the next generation so a nurse who turns 50 in 10 years can garden and enjoy a quality of life."

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About Northwell Health
Northwell Health is New York State's largest health care provider and private employer, with 23 hospitals, more than 600 outpatient facilities and nearly 15,000 affiliated physicians. We care for over two million people annually in the New York metro area and beyond, thanks to philanthropic support from our communities. Our 63,500 employees – 15,000-plus nurses and 4,000 employed doctors, including members of Northwell Health Physician Partners – are working to change health care for the better. We're making breakthroughs in medicine at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. We're training the next generation of medical professionals at the visionary Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and the Hofstra Northwell School of Graduate Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies. For information on our more than 100 medical specialties, visit

Diane O'Donnell
[email protected]

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