Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital Emergency Services ambulances received six battery-operated stretchers and power load systems that offer more patient comfort and provider safety.
EMS Director Willy Torres said the stretchers are not common nationally but he predicts they will soon become the standard.
“The reason is there is a bar in there that meets the standards of crash tests,” he said. “It is very expensive and some states have it mandated. It isn’t mandated for Montana, but I expect it will be in a year or two.”
Torres said the purchase of the stretchers has been on his radar for years and the benefits and cost savings added up to enable their purchase. He said patients will enjoy the new stretchers as they are designed for patient comfort. The mattress on the stretcher is wider, is contoured for body shape and has stabilizing wings, rather than lying flat the upper body can tilt up and bending at the knees is another option. It can also hold 700-pounds – more than previous stretchers which could hold 500 to 600 depending on the model.
“The patient will enjoy a smoother ride with less jerky motion,” Torres said. “Before it was dependent on the lifting skills and abilities of the EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) and paramedics. Now the machine does most of the work.”
An articulating arm is installed in the ambulance that at the touch of a button reaches out, grabs the stretcher (supporting its weight) and pulls the stretcher and all the medical support gear into the ambulance.
“The only lifting required now is if the patient is unresponsive on the floor, you only have to lift the patient 14 inches off the floor to the stretcher,” Torres said. “(The power load system) is like a file cabinet - it just easily glides in. It is better for the patient and better for the paramedics.”
Torres said bicep tears, herniated disks and similar injuries from repetitive motion like lifting and pulling of old-style stretchers have added to career ending or disabling injuries for medical workers. Injuries that cause pain and suffering, impacts on the personnel and the hospital’s budget.
MDMH Human Resource Director Deb Morris said because of the nature of the EMT’s work they incur back injuries, rotator cuff tears and other injuries.
“Safety practices and investments into advanced equipment like these stretchers have a positive impact on the care delivered to our patients and the staffs overall health and longevity,” Morris said. “These efforts have resulted in significant decreases in worker’s compensation claims over the past few years.”
MDMH has seen the benefits and this would add to staff safety and long term savings.
Workers Compensation numbers show the dramatic improvements for staff.
The total number of Workers’ Compensation claims in 2013 was 71, with 69 claims of temporary partial disability days and 1,243 claims of temporary total disability days.
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In 2013, MDMH incurred losses of $527,000.
Compare those to a significant reduction based on safety practice improvements.
In 2017 the hospital had 20 Workers’ Compensation claims, zero claims of temporary partial disability days and 46 claims of temporary total disability days.
In 2017, MDMH incurred losses of $70,000.
So far this year, MDMH workman’s compensation premiums decreased by 29 percent, a reduction of over $300,000 from previous years. Morris said these savings help make safety improvements and equipment purchases possible.
Torres said the reduction in staff injuries will “give increased career longevity.”
“Trained employees will work longer,” he said. “This is a huge investment in the safety of our employee and patient care.”
MDMH Ambulalnce Crew Chief Sara Monroe, a Nationally Registered Paramedic with Critical Care Endorsement, agreed.
“People who look at this as a career as they get older their backs are killing them and they are going to have to get out of it,” she said. “I think this will extend people’s careers.”
Monroe said praised the self-loading lifting mechanism and new stretchers with room for medical equipment like a ventilator, an IV pole and monitor.
“Before, we had no place to put all that stuff,” she said. “Now we can put the all the equipment on the back of the stretcher and it is so much more of a package for complex, critical transfers. It used to take so many people to transfer all the medical tools while we hand loaded the stretcher. Now we can package them up and we can go, this is a blessing.”
The MDMH ambulances, stationed in Hamilton, Darby and Stevensville have these stretchers and lifting mechanisms. The crews respond to emergency calls from Lost Trail to Stevensville.
Monroe said the MDMH ambulances were always capable but the new purchase is a luxury.
“We function at the same level as any flight crew can provide,” she said. “Everyone looks at a helicopter and thinks they are so fantastic but we can do everything that they can do and we can do it quicker from here to receiving. I can’t believe how far we’ve come in the 10 years that I’ve been here - the level of care and equipment is fantastic.”