Saturday, August 23, 2003

Heavy-duty stretchers carrying increasingly heavy-duty patients

By Jonathan Drew
The Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Ohio - Americans are piling it on, increasing demand for stretchers that can accommodate the obese and reduce strain on rescue workers.

Medical manufacturers are adding thicker aluminum frames, bulkier connectors and extra aluminum spine supports. An ambulance cot that can carry a patient weighing 600 pounds or more is becoming an industry standard, manufacturers say.

"In the 90s, what you got was just an obesity problem occurring in the U.S.," said Ferno-Washington Inc. President Joe Bourgraf.

His central Ohio-based medical equipment company added an emergency stretcher with a 650-pound weight capacity to its product line in March 2002.

Since then, sales of the reinforced models have almost doubled those of their predecessors, which had capacities of 500 pounds or less, he said.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta says about one in every five Americans was obese in 2001, the last year for which data was available.

A person is considered obese if he or she exceeds 30 on the CDC's body-mass index, a height-to-weight ratio.

Someone who is 5 feet, 5 inches tall who weighs 180 pounds would have a BMI of 30.

There has been a steady increase in obesity rates since 1991, when the CDC found that about one out of every 10 people was obese.

"The stretcher is not something you can afford to have break," said Jerry Overton, executive director of the Richmond, Va., Ambulance Authority, which outfitted its 26 ambulances with more rugged cots two years ago.

Ferno-Washington's stretchers weigh about 81 pounds and have an attachment to expand the surface. The 650-pound capacity stretcher typically sells for $3,000, about $500 more than the traditional stretcher.

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