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The Hidden Cost to Hospital To Treat Obesity

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 03 Sep 2011 03:16pm | comments
John Bird demonstrates an extra large chair.

Obesity costs Mississippians nearly a billion dollars a year in health care....but it is also costing hospitals thousands of dollars to equip their facilities to treat these patients. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports that the number overweight and obese patients are presenting new challenges to health care providers.

The rapid growth in obesity in Mississippi has forced hospitals and doctors office to refit their offices for everything from the chairs and beds, to the toilet seats and blood pressure bands.

At the bariatric treatment center at River Oaks Hospital in Flowood, program director Paul Bird explains they have had to rethink the entire hospital....right down to the tools their surgeons use.

"When we do Laparoscopic surgery, you have to have an instrument that is long enough to reach from the outside of the patient into the organ that you are working on. So we have to purchase specialty equipment for the operating room in order to have equipment that will reach through and do the surgery," Bird said,

All these specialized tools costs the hospitals thousands of dollars....an extra large bed or chair could cost two or three times the amount of regular sized equipment.

But Bird says they have no other choice if they want to treat obese patients.

"The answer to a lot of things is prevention. But most of us can't or won't get up and do the steps necessary to reach that goal on our own," Bird said.

And the problems begin before the patients even get to the hospital.

That's the sound of a wench designed to pull a stretcher into a specially outfitted ambulance designed to carry large patients.

American Medical response spokesman Jim Pollard says it cost several thousand dollars to install special ramps, wenches, and stretchers that can hold up to 16-hundred pounds.

"In some extreme rare instances, before we had these specialized ambulances, we had to move really large patients on mattresses or doors or tarpaulins. And there is no dignity in that at all. So we are very sensitive to the patient's dignity," Pollard said.

And because the ambulance only responds to obese patients, they make fewer runs which make them much more expensive to operate.

None of these costs and upgrades is reimbursed, so the expense is absorbed by the hospital and eventually passed on to all patients seeking care.

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John Bird demonstrates an extra large chair.


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