Vitale/Weinberg ‘Safe Patient Handling Act’ Is Now Law

TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Loretta Weinberg which would require health care facilities to establish guidelines for safe patient handling was signed into law today by Governor Jon Corzine.

“This new law will work to drastically reduce the risk of injury to patients and care givers,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “The program’s effectiveness lies in its development, monitoring and implementation. Facilities and the Departments of Health and Senior Services and Human Services must work together to help protect patients and health care workers.”

“This law is long overdue, and I’m glad that we’ve finally approved a piece of legislation aimed at protecting patients and those who care for them,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, who is a member of the Senate Health panel. “When dealing with transporting patients, there is always a risk of injury, but this bill puts guidelines in place to help reduce the number and severity of these injuries for all parties involved.”

The Senators’ law, S-1758, requires New Jersey’s hospitals, nursing homes, developmental centers and psychiatric hospitals to establish and implement safe patient handling programs to help protect patients and staff from injury.

Facilities will have 12 months to establish a safe patient handling committee, which will, in turn, be responsible for the development, implementation, evaluation and possible revision of the safe patient handling program. The evaluation will include annual assessments of patient handling equipment, including electric beds, hoists used to lift patients and bathing assistance devices. The membership of each committee will consist of health care employees and others trained in safe patient handling procedures.

The safe patient handling program will be established for all units and shifts of each facility, and will take into account patients’ physical and mental conditions. The policy will include a statement allowing patients to refuse assistance by facility employees. Facilities will also be required to assess the safety of patient handling and assistive devices.

Health care facilities will have three years to establish and begin training employees in safe patient handling guidelines. Facilities will be required to maintain a detailed description of the program and its components, and to submit a copy to the Department of Health and Senior Services and to the Department of Human Services. A program description will also be made available to health care facility workers. A copy of each facility’s safe patient handling policy will be posted in a location easily visible to staff, patients and visitors. Each facility will provide educational materials for patients and their families to help familiarize them with the safe patient handling program.

Facilities will be required to make recommendations for a three-year plan to purchase additional patient handling equipment that meets the safe handling guidelines.

This measure received unanimous final legislative approval from the Senate on December 10.

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