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Hospitals Go XL to Help Patients: Dignity and Safety Are Key

DETROIT, Mich.-- Hospitals are supersizing for overweight patients.

With as many as 1 in 5 Americans considered obese -- more than 1 in 4 in Michigan -- hospitals are investing in equipment that provides comfort, safety and dignity for such people.

The items include extra-large hospital gowns and scrubs-like pajamas, which the Detroit Medical Center has added as an option; expansive waiting room chairs; more generous blood pressure cuffs and leg and arm compression devices; wider beds with motorized units to help move patients; larger, sturdier stretchers, wheelchairs and examining tables, and scales that can handle 1,000 pounds.

The changes echo the attention other industries are giving larger Americans.

Old Navy recently introduced Women s Plus, items for women who wear sizes 16 to 30, available at www.oldnavy.com/plus.

Movie theaters have been widening their seats for more than a decade.

In the auto industry, designers increasingly have factored in whether larger drivers and passengers can strap on seat belts and sit comfortably inside vehicles without rubbing up against the steering wheel or inside door handles, said Eero Laansoo, a human factors engineer with Ford Motor Co.

Ford used virtual mannequins, including extra beefy men and full-figured women, to design the Edge crossover vehicle as well as the 2009 Flex, a seven -passenger crossover vehicle set to debut next summer.

Handling more weight

Even the humble commode is getting bigger.

Oakwood Hospital and Medical Center in Dearborn is trading smaller portable commodes that can accommodate 200 pounds for ones that can bear as much as 1,000 pounds.

The larger portable units add a safety factor. In the past, some patients were so heavy that they dislodged toilets from the wall because the toilets could not hold the extra weight, said Scott Brooks, vice president of sales for therapeutic surfaces for Kinetic Concepts Inc., a medical supply company in San Antonio.

The market for beds, furniture, walkers, wheelchairs, commodes and lifts has reached $500 million a year, Brooks said. It s the fastest growing area of our surfaces business, Brooks said, referring to the company s bed and mattress system products.

The company makes a bariatric bed with a built-in scale and motors to help nurses safely reposition patients and get them out of bed. The advances address safe patient handling initiatives in 12 states, including Michigan, Brooks said.

In the past, these patients weren t always managed ideally, said Dr. Daniel Bacal, medical director of Oakwood bariatric program.

Because conventional scales top out at 300 pounds, some patients went years without being weighed, or had to endure the humiliation of going to a veterinary clinic or shipping dock where scales could accommodate them, said Oakwood s bariatric coordinator Terry Marentette.

Many shunned doctor s offices because skimpy hospital gowns and tight blood pressure cuffs irritated them.

Going to a doctor s office definitely put me into a state of depression, said Shannon Kidd, 30, of Carlton who has dropped 90 pounds after having bariatric surgery at Oakwood in May.

She weighed so much during two pregnancies that staffers couldn t lift her, she said. She was unable to get an accurate weight because she exceeded the maximum on the doctor s scale.

Debbie Hawley, 51, of Livonia said she refused for years to get on the scale, knowing she would not like what she saw. She has lost 40 pounds since bariatric surgery at Oakwood in September.

Beneficial to hospital workers, too

Though the new products may cost more, they can reduce workplace injuries and claims for workers compensation benefits for health care staff, industry officials said.

Studies of emergency medical crews show that power cots and other equipment reduced lost work days by 77 last year for one North Carolina crew, according to Kalamazoo-based Stryker Corp., which makes products for oversized patients, including bariatric beds and a line of EMS products.

Oakwood bought several HoverMat products from Kinetic Concepts for use in its bariatric program. The products offset a person s weight by 90%. The nurses on all the floors clamored for them, Marentette said of the devices.

The larger equipment benefits millions of Americans with weight issues, hospital purchasing leaders said.

It does increase our costs, but this is the reality we live with, said Carlos Junca, director of supply chain at St. Mary Mercy in Livonia.

If we buy 10 wheelchairs, we make sure we buy two or three that can accommodate 500 to 700 pounds.

Warren-based St. John Health gets patient referrals for its CT and MRI machines in Novi, Madison Heights and two Detroit sites that have tables capable of holding people up to 350 pounds, said Lou Bischoff, director of radiology at St. John Providence Park in Novi.

Business at St. John Riverview increased about 5% by adding two open MRI units, he said.

Contact PATRICIA ANSTETT at 313-222-5021 or panstett@freepress.com

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