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Obese patients can ride in new, larger ambulance

SAVANNAH, Ga. - Southside Fire and EMS has added a special-order ambulance meant for very obese patients to its fleet of emergency vehicles.

It's getting great business.

Southside is using the bariatric ambulance for anyone larger than 400 pounds. It has been used more than once a day since it was delivered in late June. The largest patient transported thus far weighed 730 pounds.

It's also being used to transport normal-weight patients, but special features, including a cot that can hold a 1,600-pound patient, are easing transport problems with larger patients.

"Before, we would have to get six to eight men to lift a stretcher and sometimes our EMTs would get hurt," said Assistant Chief Tim Genest. "Logistically it was difficult, and there were issues for the patient."

Anne Byerly, the nurse manager in the Emergency Department at Candler Hospital, said obese patients aren't unusual anymore.

"You can see the change," she said. National statistics "show a 50 percent increase in size since 1991."

In traditional ambulances, large patients often felt unstable because the standard cots weren't tested for extreme weights.

A patient's large girth also might hang over the edge and prevent the cot from securely connecting to a wall mount.

The new vehicle comes with a cot that fastens to the floor rather than at the sides.

The special vehicle cost $120,000, about $35,000 more than a conventional ambulance.

"When you think about how much it might cost if you have an employee with an injured back away from work, it might be a cost savings," Assistant Chief Genest said. "But on top of that, there's the concern about patient comfort and safety."

Some hospitals are making changes to accommodate obese patients, too. Candler purchased reinforced wheelchairs, larger waiting room seats and bigger blood pressure cuffs. It also has rolls of special plastic material that can be placed under a patient to help slide him or her from one cot to a hospital bed.

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