Morbidly Obese Patients An Almost Daily Concern

The sharply rising number of obese Americans has emergency crews across the nation super sizing their stretchers. Our local ambulance company, American Medical Response, is part of a national effort to create technology allowing for better patient comfort, timely transport and care.

"I'm Kevin the paramedic with American Medical Response and his is my partner Mandie. We've been together four of five months I would say," Kevin said before going out to work on Sunday.

Crews like Kevin and Mandie face morbidly obese patients fairly often.

"This stretcher, the one that we use has a weight max to it which is 500 pounds, which seems like a lot, and it is a lot, but usually somebody that's starting to exceed 350-400 pounds is not going to fit on here." Kevin said while rolling his stretcher.

"Getting them out of the house, loading usually takes two or three times as long," Kevin added.

"Many of these patients are so large that they cannot fit safely on the stretcher at all," AMR Supervisor Chris Cirillo said.

In that case the stretcher is left and the crew will come back later. It takes about four or five people to hoist the patient onto the floor of the ambulance. It's difficult to administer care in the back of the ambulance because the paramedics cannot maneuver as they normally would.

"A lot of times they have trouble breathing when they're laying flat, and we have to accommodate that as well.

If the status quo continues lives will continue to be in jeopardy. AMR hopes to have new Bariatric equipment here in south Mississippi within 12 months.

"Looking at the outside of the ambulance you won't be able to tell much difference, but there will be special winches installed to help hoist the patient into the ambulance and the stretcher is built of a more sturdy design," Cirillo said.

Better equipment and new technology is not only going to make it safer for dealing with obese patients, it's also going to make it safer for the EMS worker as well. 20% of injuries suffered by paramedics are when dealing with obese patients.

Studies show that more than half of on-the-job paramedic injuries occur during use of the stretcher.