American Hospitals Are Spending Billions To Accommodate Oversized Patients

obese woman hospital lift
603-pound woman is lifted out of her home to go to a hospital.

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To meet the demands of America’s growing collective waistline, the nation’s hospitals are spending billions to service overweight patients. In 2010, Millennium Research Group estimated that U.S. hospitals will spend more than $1.2 billion by the end of 2011 on supplies to accommodate bigger clientele. 

A recent survey by marketing research group Novation found  that 58% of facilities have seen an increase in admissions of morbidly obese patients in the last 18 months and that 18% of them are planning to invest in physical renovations in the future.

Novation survey hospitals renovation obesity
Investment in the physical renovation of member facilities to accommodate morbidly obese patients in 2011.

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Investments in bariatric equipment — special supplies designed for overweight people — include lifts that can handle up to 550 pounds, CT scanners that can accommodate up to 600 pounds, and bariatric stretchers that can accommodate up to 750 pounds, instead of the standard 250 to 300 pounds.

Other improvements carried out by hospitals include:

  • widening of doorways
  • replacing wall-mounted toilets with floor mounters ones
  • reinforcing sinks and installing motorised power drivers to assist nurses with heavy wheelchairs
  • waiting room seats that accommodate patients who weigh 350 pounds
  • larger adjustable beds
  • four-wheel-drive ambulances with a lifting devices

Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, for example, spent $300,000 in 2010 to renovate about 60 rooms with floor-mounted toilets, John Balzer, the system’s vice president of facility planning and development, told Tia Ghose of JSOnline

The large investments hospitals are making in bariatric equipment not only benefit patients; the adjustments also decrease worker injuries related to moving obese clients. After the Gundersen Lutheran hospital invested $1.5 million to add lifts to 220 patient rooms, worker injury costs due to patient handling dropped from about $6.5 million in 2004 to about $2.5 million in 2006, hospital officials told the Winona Daily News.

Unfortunately, bariatric equipment is usually more expensive than regular hospital equipment. This is due to higher manufacturing costs, including “rigorous weight-loading tests, stronger joint welding and tougher, and more durable raw materials,” chief marketing of Sizewise Mary Nell Westbrook told JSOnline.

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