Hospitals, emergency crews learning to accommodate obese patients

Sue Schmieding remembers when – a few decades ago – Centegra physicians had to take their most obese patients down to the loading dock to weigh them.

Not anymore. Higher-capacity scales are just one of several steps taken by Centegra and others in the health care industry both to maintain the dignity of severely overweight patients and to ensure they’re still receiving the top level of care.

The obesity epidemic has forced hospitals to add equipment and supplies to accommodate obese patients and ease the burden the extra weight can cause personnel.

“Thoughts go into making sure we have size-appropriate equipment to accommodate the ‘of size’ patients,” said Schmieding, Centegra’s director of the patient experience.

In the past few years, Centegra has taken several measures to accommodate severely obese patients.

The provider has two bariatric stretchers that can support patients up to 1,000 pounds. It has designated rooms that cater to bariatric patients, with larger beds, chairs and supports under toilets.

Obese patients often are transferred from bed to bed by “hover mats” – mattresses that can slide under a patient and inflate to ease the process.

“That’s more comfortable for the patient and reduces workplace back injury,” Schmieding said.

Hospitals aren’t the only ones worried about reducing injuries that come from handling obese patients.

Some local emergency providers have added at least one vehicle to their fleet that eases the burden on personnel.

Crystal Lake Fire/Rescue has an ambulance in its fleet equipped specifically to handle heavier patients. Space inside the vehicle is wider and holds a larger cot, which is loaded and unloaded through a special ramp.

The setup can support patients who are up to 1,000 pounds. Emergency crews make the call on a case-by-case basis whether to obtain the help of the ambulance, Lt. Chris Kopera said.

“What brought it on was safety for both the patient and the personnel responding,” Kopera said. “Just heightened awareness of people who fall into this category.”

For Pat Crawford, a medic for nearly 40 years, the extra equipment can mean all the difference in helping an emergency responder maintain his vitality.

Crawford, who founded Elgin Medi-Transport Inc., said the stress that rescue-related lifting can have on a medic can prove debilitating.

“I’ve had two times in my life where I thought I’d be an invalid because of my back pain,” he said. “There were times the pain just lasted weeks at a time.”

A couple of years ago when Crawford heard about the new lift technology called the Stryker Power-LOAD, he jumped on it. With the new system – installed in four of Crawford’s trucks – a single paramedic can load a patient who weighs up to 700 pounds.

The stretcher docks to the loading system and then mechanically lifts up, raising the wheels in the process.

“The patient goes in and out like on a file cabinet,” Crawford said.

It’s a convenience that Crawford believes will mean a world of difference for his employees’ health in the future, and also provides his patients with a greater level of comfort.

“It’s not uncommon to see a patient in the 400-pound range,” he said. “To move them safely and comfortably is just an awesome thing.”

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