As more of the population becomes obese, we continue to face new challenges. One example is unsuitable facilities to cater for the extreme weights and sizes. To counteract this, the Parkland Hospital in Dallas has catered the entire hospitals facilities to suit clinically obese patients. I don’t necessarily think this is a good idea but it is interesting to see how we are now starting to make big changes to accommodate our obesity epidemic and make it easier to live comfortably as an obese individual.
When the revamped Parkland Hospital in Dallas opened recently, each of the 862 single-patient rooms in the sprawling new 17-story tower was ready to accommodate the growing number of obese patients that hospitals across the country increasingly care for.
“The bariatric population” — typically defined as patients having a body mass index of 40 or higher — “wasn’t an afterthought,” said Kathy Harper, vice president of clinical coordination, new campus construction, at Parkland. “They’re a very special population. We thought a lot about their needs and how to accommodate them.” It’s a trend at hospitals across the country, though few on the scale of Parkland.
It would appear that these changes are becoming much more common amongst hospitals across the States. The number of rooms in each hospital has jumped in the past 10 years.
“Most hospitals we are building are providing an increasingly larger percentage of rooms that can accommodate the larger person,” said Nancy Connolly, a senior executive at Hammes Company, a hospital consulting group. “In the last five to 10 years, maybe two rooms could accommodate them. Now, 15 to 20 percent of rooms can accommodate them.”
Obese patients require special equipment to support their size. This means sturdier beds, wheel chairs and even bigger door frames and shower stalls. The rooms at the Parkland’s hospital measure 273 square feet and have a door opening six foot wide.
“Standard-size rooms don’t have enough room for appropriate equipment to treat these patients,” said Geri Johnston, a nurse and the bariatric surgery program coordinator at the teaching hospital at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. “You have to have enough room to have the right equipment. That may not fit in a normal hospital-size room, and certainly not in a shared room, let alone a shared bathroom.”
Obese patients often have other serious, simultaneous medical conditions that require specialized care.
Labeled advanced smart beds by their manufacturer, the heavy-duty beds accommodate people weighing up to 500 pounds. For the greatest flexibility and patient privacy, architects placed the 50-square-foot private patient bathrooms along an exterior wall. Every bathroom has a four-foot-wide doorway, a heavy-duty, floor-mounted commode and an extra-large shower with a large seat.
These specialised facilities are extremely expensive. They do make a hospital stay much more comfortable for the obese patient but it may be a bad sign of what’s to come in the future if we are starting to make such big changes to accommodate our ever growing population. Even the patient’s visitors get seats that can support large weights.
“The presence of these articles makes a huge difference to the patient,” said James Zervios, vice president for marketing and communications for the Obesity Action Coalition, an advocacy group.
Separately, 100 rooms — about four per floor — are equipped with a motorized lift that can accommodate patients up to 1,000 pounds. Running along a ceiling-mounted track, its hammock-like sling can more easily and safely lift and transport the hospital’s heaviest patients.
Patients and staff members are not the only ones benefiting from the changes at Parkland. The chairs in each room can accommodate a 400-pound visitor. And beneath a picture window with a view of the Dallas skyline, the padded cushion of a love seat folds into a visitor’s bed that can take 750 pounds.