It’s safety first for PEF and management at Roswell Park
By SHERRY HALBROOK
Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center (formerly Roswell Park Cancer Institute) in Buffalo is all about restoring the health and extending the lives of cancer patients.
But sometimes helping patients can pose risks for both the patients and the employees.
Fortunately, the joint health and safety committee there is working to make Roswell’s facilities and procedures as safe and healthy as possible for both patients and staff. In fact, Roswell’s joint health and safety committees came in for statewide honors in January. (See related story, page 11.)
Last year, Roswell’s rehabilitation unit moved into a larger space at the hospital. And in September, it was retrofitted with a new system for safely helping patients get to their feet and gain strength and mobility by practicing walking and climbing stairs. It uses a ceiling mounted track with a harness to support the patient and prevent muscle strains and falls.
According to PEF member Karen Rabent, an occupational therapy assistant, the new equipment allows therapists to enter information that customizes its operation to the specific needs of the patient being treated, and the system is dynamic in moving with the patient to keep them safe and secure. It also records how dependent the patient is on the system for support while walking and climbing.
Physical therapist Hillary Jacobson said, “The system has different velocity sensitivity settings that allow us to customize a rehabilitation plan. For example, we may set it at a low sensitivity for more independent patients who just need a little extra guidance as they try to improve their balance. It gives them the ability to take a few steps and catch themselves before the harness catches them. With a higher sensitivity setting, the harness will automatically catch you if you start to wobble or your knees start to buckle. We can also use the harness to help with sitting, climbing stairs and other daily life tasks. We’ve seen it help patients overcome anxiety and nervousness about moving more, or in different ways, than they have in a while.”
“One of the greatest benefits is the boost to the patient’s self confidence,” because when the patient realizes they are completely safe, they are no longer afraid to try the things they need to do, Rabent said.
Rabent, who has been a therapy assistant for 38 years, said the equipment helps spare staff some of the back strain and muscle fatigue that often goes with the job.
“We try to do everything the safest way we can,” Rabent said. “When you are in a helping profession, you do whatever you have to do to help your patient. I just wish we had this equipment 38 years ago.”
The rehab unit includes 29 staff, mostly PEF members who provide physical therapy to about 70 percent of the hospital’s inpatients, and occupational therapy to approximately 40 percent of the patients. Last year, that added up to 12,000 physical therapy sessions, according to Bryan Wittmeyer, director of rehabilitation therapy and wellness services.
Wittmeyer said he sees benefits to the patients, the staff, the hospital and even health insurers, since the equipment reduces the liability risk of patient injury and the risk of staff injuries that could result in lost time and workers’ compensation costs.
“We expect the equipment to also reduce the length of time patients stay in the hospital since they can safely get up and begin to rebuild their strength and mobility sooner and faster,” Wittmeyer said.
PEF Executive Board member Bruce Jagroop, an occupational and environmental safety specialist at Roswell, works closely with Joseph Moslow, director of occupational and environmental safety, to keep the hospital safe. They are both members of the joint health and safety committee at Roswell.
Division 196 Assistant Council Leader Larry Tworek, a laser engineering specialist, is also a member of the health and safety committee. He gave Jagroop high praise for his efforts to get the new safe-patient-handling equipment and training for staff members who use it.
Safe patient handling is not the only need or challenge the committee has addressed.
Executive Board member Marilynn DiCara cited efforts including training to ensure Roswell staff are prepared and equipped to deal with any sudden difficult situations that might arise at the facility.
“At the statewide Joint PEF-NYS Health and Safety Committee, I was able to share information from our yearly in-service training that is required for all employees at Roswell Park.”
“We are always trying to stay ahead of new trends and equipment at Roswell Park,” DiCara said.
PEF Division 196 Council Leader Michele Silsby said she and DiCara “have worked with Joe Moslow and his team to implement a plan to assess the work environment and address our members’ concerns for their personal safety in the pathology labs and nearby work areas. Many of our members in these areas work with hazardous chemicals and even life-threatening substances.
“When Marilynn and I called on Joe for his assistance, he took the concerns for our members’ safety very seriously. After assessment of some laboratories and various work areas in our pathology department, Joe coordinated meetings to discuss plans of resolution and education for our members, and to answer their questions. Changes in the work area are in progress. Management is working with us, and our members are being heard.”
“Our interactions have been very successful thus far, and it’s exciting to see member engagement in action,” Silsby added.