Columbus Plans More Cots for Bariatric Patients

The Columbus Division of Fire has bought stretchers over the past few years that can move patients who weigh up to 650 pounds; now, the city is considering buying even-stronger equipment — for those weighing up to 1,000.

When paramedics have to move patients weighing more than 650 pounds, which generally happens twice a month, the current stretchers often aren’t strong enough.

For the morbidly obese, paramedics use a tarp with eight to 10 handles.

“We’ll put the patient in … the back of the truck on the floor, which presents a safety issue because they’re not fastened down,” said Capt. Scott Krummel, an emergency medical supervisor with the Fire Division.

At the hospital, the medic unit is met by staff members who help move the patient from the floor of the truck to an ambulatory bariatric bed.

Federal health officials estimate that the health cost of obesity in the United States is $147 billion annually. Part of this cost is paid by local governments that provide emergency medical services.

Columbus has 18 stretchers that can move patients up to 650 pounds; those stretchers cost about $5,000 each. The city plans to buy 34 more cots this year so that every medic unit has one, Krummel said.

A stretcher that could safely handle patients who weigh up to 1,000 pounds, along with the hydraulic system to move it up and down, costs about $10,000.

The larger, wider cots require an ambulance retrofitted with a ramp and an automatic-winching system to pull the cot inside. That helps reduce injury to paramedics trying to move the large patients. The retrofitting can cost more than $6,000.

“We’ve talked about this for years, and this is something that’s needed,” Krummel said.

Columbus should have two of the bariatric medic units, he said. “If paramedics got to the point where there was a 1,000-pound patient, they could put out a call for that unit.”

George Speaks, deputy director of the Department of Public Safety, said he hadn’t received a request for larger cots or to retrofit ambulances. “However, we would strongly consider obtaining these cots, despite the cost,” he said. “Obesity is detrimental not only to the individual but society in general. Our community may have to pick up the additional cost.”

State Sen. Kevin Coughlin, chairman of the Senate health committee, said such medical equipment could become a financial burden for cities, but the state could help with interest-free loans.

“Money is very tight in the state government right now, but I could look at what’s possible, seeing if there’s any money that can be reallocated for that purpose,” Coughlin said.

MedFlight of Ohio’s critical-care ground unit added two bariatric ambulances with the bigger cots to its fleet a few years ago after seeing an increase in the number of patients too big for the 650-pound cots.

The private ambulance company transports 30 to 40 morbidly obese patients a year, said Tom Allenstein, chief clinical officer at MedFlight.

“We saw for even the few that we do, we needed” a bariatric system, he said. “You just can’t have any ambulance transporting them.”

Dr. Teresa Long, Columbus’ health commissioner, said the need for the costly cots is another call for people to change their behavior and reduce obesity in America.

“The human and fiscal cost is tremendous,” she said. “The thought is sobering, and yet we can’t be paralyzed. We have to take action.”

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