As Americans get bigger, so does the equipment hospitals use to treat them.
Charlotte-area 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.
Its this tidal wave, if you will, said Michael Rush, director of materials resource management for the Carolinas HealthCare System. This is where weve 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.
Novant Health and Carolinas HealthCare hospitals have been responding to an increasingly large patient population over the past several years. Gaston Memorial Hospital and Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill have made some similar adjustments, too. The changes can be seen almost everywhere in the hospitals, from waiting rooms to patient wings to surgical suites.
At Carolinas Medical Center, part of Carolinas HealthCare, sturdier chairs that can hold 500 to 750 pounds are now standard in every waiting room. The hospital has more than 100 patient lifts that typically hold up to 600 or 1,000 pounds. They also have beds, wheelchairs, crutches and walkers that can support several hundred pounds more than their standard counterparts.
Presbyterian Hospital, part of Novant Health, 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.
In the hospitals emergency department is a new CT scanner called the Hercules that can hold patients up to 600 pounds.
Its an ongoing thing that we think about all the time, said Doug Armstrong, a director of planning, design and construction for Novant. Were trying to make sure that were accommodating.
In some cases, officials said theyve noticed that manufacturers have started building stronger, standard-size equipment, too.
Latasha Ruffin, lead cardiac therapist at CMC, recalled what it was like to take care of an obese patient when there wasnt 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. Youd 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. Often they havent been mobile in a long time, so the movement can improve strength and skin integrity, therapists say.
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 Childrens Hospital dropped from 40 to 25.
Cost is higher
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.
At Presbyterian Hospital, it cost about $15,000 more to build a new patient room for obese patients compared to a standard room.
There is additional cost associated with everything that were having to do to accommodate these patients, Armstrong said. But its something that health care is having to do.
And the adjustments continue: Presbyterian is building a new operating-room suite which will have surgical tables that can hold patients up to 1,200 pounds. They are also designing two new critical-care areas that will have rooms for the obese. Presbyterian is also getting a wide-bore MRI that is about four inches bigger than a typical MRI. By the end of the year, an open MRI at Presbyterian Orthopaedic Hospital will be available, too.
Rush, of Carolinas HealthCare, says the hospitals will be replacing some current CT scanners with wider ones over the next couple of years. They are also looking at adding more patient lifts in diagnostic areas that will help get heavy patients onto the CT scanner or MRI.
The trend is going that way and we just have to be prepared to make sure that were going to be able to take care of the patients, he said.