As Americans get bigger, so does the equipment hospitals use to treat them.
Hospitals are bringing in bigger beds and stronger wheelchairs, making doorways wider and customizing rooms for lifts that can hoist up to 600-pound “patients of size.”
It’s “this tidal wave, if you will,” said Michael Rush, director of materials resource management for the Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare System. “This is where we’ve got to go to meet the needs of the patients.”
More than a third of American adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One study found that figure will likely increase to 42 percent by 2030.
Obesity leads to higher risks of developing heart disease, diabetes, strokes or some cancers, among other conditions.
The changes can be seen almost everywhere in the hospitals, from waiting rooms to patient wings to surgical suites.
At Palmetto Health Richland in Columbia, the accommodations began a few years ago to purchase equipment that can handle patients 500 pounds or heavier. That includes larger and stronger CT and MRI scanning devices, treatment tables, bedside commodes, walkers, canes, bedpans and blood pressure cuffs, according to Palmetto Health.
The renovated floors at Providence Hospitals include patient lifts set up to hold 500 pounds, and a new MRI machine is designed for larger patients, according to a hospital spokesperson.
At Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, sturdier chairs that can hold 500 to 750 pounds are now standard in every waiting room. Charlotte’s Presbyterian Hospital opened 90 new patient rooms last year, and 15 of them were customized for obese patients. The entrances are wider. The room itself has more space. Some also have tracks installed on the ceiling for patient lifts.
“It’s an ongoing thing that we think about all the time,” said Doug Armstrong, a director of planning, design and construction for Novant. “We’re trying to make sure that we’re accommodating.”
In some cases, officials said they’ve noticed that manufacturers have started building stronger, standard-size equipment, too.
Latasha Ruffin, lead cardiac therapist at Charlotte Medical Center, recalled what it was like to take care of an obese patient when there wasn’t as much equipment for them.
“It was very intimidating ... with the fear of injuring myself and also the patient,” she said.
At times, the staff would need to bring in several people to safely move larger patients without the lifts.
“It would be an ‘all call to a room, all lifting help needed,’” said Katie Tasillo, lead medical surgical therapist at CMC. “You’d get 10-plus people that would come in, and it was horribly embarrassing for the patient.”
With the lifts, one therapist or nurse can typically move an obese patient on his or her own.
Hospital staff say the patients are more comfortable with the equipment, too. In some cases, obese patients are anxious about falling and not being able to get back up, so the lifts help them gain confidence to move around.
Worker injuries decreased around the same time more lifts and related training programs were put in place. Between early 2011 and 2012, staff injuries from moving patients at CMC and Levine Children’s Hospital dropped from 40 to 25.
The added cost of equipment for obese patients can vary. For example, critical-care beds for obese patients purchased by CMC are only about 5 percent more expensive than standard critical-care beds. The walkers, however, were 50 percent more than the standard ones.