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The Skilled Nursing Facilities’ Guide to SPHM Legislation

Written by: Michael Fragala, PhD, MBA, RN, WCC, CSPHP, AMS

Safe Patient Handling and Mobility (SPHM) is a type of program that promotes the safety of both patients and healthcare professionals when lifting or moving patients. For skilled nursing facilities, understanding and complying with SPHM legislation is not only a legal requirement but can also be a means of expressing commitment to providing the best care possible.

What is SPHM?

SPHM is a set of practices, guidelines, and protocols designed to ensure the safe handling and mobility of patients in healthcare settings. By incorporating SPHM, nursing facilities will realize several important benefits. These include:

  • Reduction in staff injuries – Effective SPHM minimizes the risk of musculoskeletal disorders among healthcare workers.
  • Improved patient care and satisfaction – Patients who are handled with care have a reduced risk of falls or injuries, improving their long-term well-being and satisfaction with their care.
  • Decreased costs – A decreased number of injuries can mean fewer worker compensation claims and a lower risk of costly litigation.

The Evolution of Safe Patient Handling Legislation

Safe patient handling legislation has a relatively recent origin. Important milestones in SPHM include:

  • Early recognition  – In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a growing awareness of the high rates of back injuries among nurses. Studies began to highlight the risks associated with manual patient handling. Early interventions focus on using proper body mechanics.
  • Introduction of mechanical lifts –  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the use of mechanical lifts, as we know them today, and other assistive devices started to gain traction. These devices were designed to reduce the physical strain on healthcare workers during patient-handling tasks.
  • Legislation and guidelines – Recognizing the need for standardized practices, several countries and states began to introduce legislation and guidelines to promote safe patient handling. In the early 2000s, several U.S. states passed laws requiring healthcare facilities to develop and implement SPHM programs.
  • Research and evidence-based practices – As SPHM practices evolve, there is a growing emphasis on evidence-based approaches that is ongoing today. Research continues to evaluate the effectiveness of various interventions and equipment.

Today, SPHM is recognized as a critical component of patient care and worker safety in healthcare settings worldwide. Safe patient handling legislation has been implemented by at least 16 states and continues to be explored and revised.

Key Components of Current SPHM Legislation

SPHM legislation varies based on the specific state and local regulations but typically emphasizes:

  • Equipment standards – Ensures the use of appropriate and safe equipment for patient handling.
  • Training for healthcare staff – Continuous training keeps staff updated on best practices.
  • Implementation of programs and policies – Establishes clear guidelines and procedures for patient handling.
  • Reporting and auditing mechanisms – Ensures compliance through monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.

How SPHM Legislation Impacts Skilled Nursing Facilities

SPHM legislation isn’t just another regulation skilled nursing facilities have to worry about. It is an important safety program that all facilities should be implementing anyway. Non-compliance can lead to legal consequences, tarnished reputation, and potential harm to patients and staff.

On the other hand, adhering to SPHM requirements can enhance your facility’s reputation and credibility, attract potential staff by creating a safer work environment, and ensure positive patient outcomes and satisfaction. Safe patient handling ultimately leads to better care.

Best Practices for Complying with SPHM Legislation

To ensure compliance with SPHM legislation, facilities should prioritize the selection of equipment that caters to the specific needs of patients. Facilities should also implement continuous training to regularly update staff on the latest techniques and best practices. Above all, facilities should ultimately foster a culture that prioritizes safety and patient-centered care in all their operations.

Challenges Faced by Skilled Nursing Facilities

While the benefits of SPHM are clear, there are some challenges nursing facilities should expect to encounter. Financial constraints, especially the initial costs associated with equipment procurement and training, can be a barrier. Additionally, new changes are often met with resistance, and facilities may find some staff members might be hesitant to adopt new methods. Keeping pace with the ever-evolving standards and legislation can also be daunting. The benefits of SPHM, however, make taking the time and effort to overcome these barriers well worth it.


Adhering to SPHM legislation isn’t just legally necessary, it is undeniably crucial in promoting the well-being of your patients and staff. While complying with safe patient handling legislation can seem daunting, you don’t have to do it alone.

With extensive SPHM experience, Joerns offers nursing facilities many benefits, from providing top-tier patient handling equipment to comprehensive training initiatives. Joerns’ solutions are ultimately customized to cater to the unique needs of each of our partner’s specific facilities. Partnering with experts like Joerns can make the journey toward compliance smoother and more efficient.

Don’t compromise on safety. Partner with Joerns today and ensure your skilled nursing facility provides the best safe patient handling possible.

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