Nurses in St. Paul face injury risks from obese patients

Obesity leads to many health complications, which can land patients in the hospital. Once they arrive, they increase the injury risk to the very nurses charged with caring for them.

One woman said that she had to quit her hands-on nursing job at just 46 years old. She had a herniated disc since she'd spent years working with overweight patients. Lifting and moving them was traumatic for her body, and she had to switch to a desk job.

She said she was sad to see the job that she loved end, but she didn't know what else to do. She had to protect herself. She said she was afraid to work with obese patients and risk further injury.

Far more dangerous than it seems

Hers is just one story, but it's incredibly common. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that nurses and those in related professions had the highest rate of musculoskeletal injuries. They ranked above other professions that are often thought of as far more dangerous, such as working for the fire department.

This isn't to say that firefighters don't face serious risks. They absolutely do. But that risk underscores how problematic working as a nurse can actually be.

The issues aren't going away. Every year, obesity in the United States gets worse. Some studies have found that the problem is greatest in the Midwest.

As people get heavier, it means that even those who aren't in the hospital for obesity-related issues pose a risk. A person could have surgery after a car accident, for instance, and need to spend a week in bed to recover. If a 150-pound nurse has to try to move a 300-pound patient alone, that's problematic.

Even that may be a conservative example. The nurse with the herniated disc said that she'd tried to weigh one patient and found it impossible. The hospital did not have a scale that was up to the task. She had to bring the patient to a loading dock.

Unreasonable expectations

The director of the American Nurses Association pointed out that standards are different in nursing. For instance, many jobs say that workers need to be able to lift 50 pounds. For a nurse, a 50-pound patient is a child. An elderly woman who weighs 90 pounds is thought of as light. In any other profession, trying to move 90 pounds would be a difficult task, but that's what nurses hope for with so many obese patients coming through the doors.

Nurses must be aware of the risks, and they also need to know all of the potential options they have if they're hurt on the job. Statistics show it's very likely in this high-risk profession, and serious injuries can drastically impact a career for years to come.

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