- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - At St. Luke’s Hospital, each of the 14 new neurology intensive-care rooms has a feature

that is becoming standard in the health care industry: a patient lift system that can handle 600 pounds.

Hospital officials had the equipment installed out of safety concerns — it can take five or six nurses to lift extremely overweight patients, said Jennifer Ball, a patient-care director with St. Luke’s.

“I think we’re seeing more [obese patients], and people are more conscientious about it,” she said.

Severely overweight patients tend to have more health problems, and they often can’t fit in standard beds or wheelchairs built to handle people up to 300 pounds. The $3 billion market for hospital beds, wheelchairs and other equipment designed for plus-size patients is rapidly growing as more Americans become obese.

Kinetic Concepts Inc. of San Antonio said its line of specialty hospital beds and mattresses, including those for obese patients, took in $282 million last year, a 6 percent increase from the previous year.

“There’s more and more and more of these patients showing up at hospitals now,” said Ron Dziedziula of KCI.

SizeWise Rentals of Las Vegas, which specializes in medical equipment for the obese, said its business has grown 15 percent to 20 percent a year.

Health care providers are calling companies such as KCI and SizeWise for beds built to support up to 1,000 pounds and wheelchairs that are 32 inches or wider.

The equipment often costs much more than its regular counterparts. A typical hospital bed can cost $2,000, but a reinforced bed for heavier patients can cost $6,000 or more.

“Everything has to be custom,” said DuWayne Kramer, president of Kansas City, Kan.-based Burke Mobility Products, a key manufacturer. “You have to be thinking in a different way for everything.”

Mr. Kramer said that in the past, hospital workers were forced to improvise in order to care for severely overweight patients.

“People were welding beds together or putting beds on the floor,” he said. “When we first got into this [in 1979], there was nothing out there.”

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