BI’s Article search uses Boolean search capabilities. If you are not familiar with these principles, here are some quick tips.

To search specifically for more than one word, put the search term in quotation marks. For example, “workers compensation”. This will limit your search to that combination of words.

To search for a combination of terms, use quotations and the & symbol. For example, “hurricane” & “loss”.

Login Register Subscribe

Hospitals aim to keep older nurses on the job by increasing safety


In a time marred by a nursing shortage—and under a cloud of statistics that say some of the most experienced health care workers are aging and headed for retirement—special attention to keeping older caregivers on the job is becoming paramount, experts say.

Hospitals “are concerned about losing this more experienced staff,” said Janice Homola, a Lansing, Mich.-based senior loss prevention consultant with Coverys, a firm that specializes in risk management for medical professionals and hospitals. Older nurses “leave the field because of the physical demands; we hear that a lot. Meanwhile, hospitals realize the value of these employees.”

Older nurses have essential experience and knowledge and are instrumental in passing those on to their younger, more inexperienced counterparts, experts say.

It’s why savvy employers such as Scripps Health, one of Southern California’s largest hospital systems, has spent the past decade implementing sweeping risk management strategies to help increase workplace safety and awareness for workers over age 50.

“We focus on taking care of all of our employees,” said Bob Melendy, Scripps’ human capital services executive. “With all of our workers, we really stress the importance of knowing your limitations on what you can and can’t do. Older workers are best when it comes to this.”

San Diego-based Scripps, which snagged AARP’s top spot in its annual Best Employers for Workers Over 50 in 2011 listing, employs 3,025 registered nurses, 30.2% of whom are age 50 or older. The average age is 44, a figure that has been climbing year after year, according to Mr. Melendy.

The figures are in line with national statistics that place one-third of registered nurses over age 50. According to the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, released in September 2010 by the federal Division of Nursing, the average age of a registered nurse in 2008 was 46, up from 45.2 in 2000.

While the AARP’s award focused on the overall picture for workers over age 50, applauding everything from a top-notch retirement plan to health insurance offerings, Mr. Melendy said Scripps’ evolving view on workplace safety and new measures put in place to ensure safety have made the hospital system a good fit for older workers.

According to Ms. Homola, the most common injuries for nurses stem from lifting heavy patients and slips and falls. Scripps, in turn, has zeroed in on those occurrences as a way to quell injuries and keep older workers on the job.

Among the most lauded changes at Scripps is the addition of “lift teams,” a group trained specifically in the skill of repositioning and lifting patients. Mr. Melendy said a nurse who has to move a patient has the option of calling on a lift team to reposition a patient rather than to attempt to move a patient on his or her own. The hospital also provided special apparatus to help move patients, relieving the strain on nurses.


Since implementing lift teams in 2002, the hospital has seen a dip in injuries related to moving patients.

The goal has been to keep the expertise of the older, valued nurses on the line while eliminating some of the more physical demands of being a caregiver, he said.

“We focus training around knowing what you can and can’t do,” said Mr. Melendy. “Training is knowing your limitations and knowing when to call for help,” he said. “Employees get hurt when they decide to move a patient because it’s quicker than waiting for help or getting the right equipment.”

Ironically, Ms. Homola and Mr. Melendy say it’s the younger nurses who tend to get hurt more often in hospitals. “The older workers are always the ones who know when to get help,” said Ms. Homola, adding that common sense comes into play. “Older workers know it will take them longer to heal from an injury,” she added.

Another strategy at Scripps is the deployment of “workplace empowerment” teams, known as “WE teams.” The teams, created two years ago, are comprised of nurses who care for patients and spend part of their day evaluating procedures and the placement of equipment, always on the lookout for ways to do things better and safer, according to Mr. Melendy.

“In a high-injury area, we have seen a reduction of 95% of injuries with the use of the WE teams,” he said. “Their job is to look at the way we do things and to come up with safer ways to do them.”

The teams eliminate some of the red tape needed to make changes, thus empowering management. A side effect is that workers are constantly looking at safety, Mr. Melendy said. “The workers are thinking about safety in all that they do; it’s becoming a part of their job.”

Ms. Homola said the slight move from 100% concern for patients to an added concern for caregivers is somewhat of a paradigm shift in hospitals—“a necessary one.”

“The health and safety of the caregiver is integral to the outcome for the patients,” she said. “It becomes good business to make these changes for all workers.”