Problems of heavy lifting pose worker injury risk

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Skilled nursing providers long plagued by the perils of resident lifting may find the task even more burdensome in light of a growing bariatric population that requires specialized lifting and transport equipment, and more caregivers to assist in the process.

Sources agreed that if a provider hasn't yet been faced with a special needs bariatric resident, it likely will. Georgetown University's Center on an Aging Society reports that nearly 15 million Americans over age 51 are clinically obese – a factor that ups an individual's odds for developing life-threatening diseases, exacerbates arthritis and respiratory conditions, and makes it increasingly difficult to perform activities of daily living without assistance.
Aside from the growing need for rehabilitation and subacute care for bariatric patients, a nursing home may be the best care environment for acutely ill patients who are discharged from the hospital but require additional treatment prior to being sent home. Nursing facilities may also see an influx of bariatric surgery patients who require short-term post-operative care, such as wound management and nutritional therapy, or those who require stabilization prior to undergoing the procedure.
"Obesity isn't just someone else's problem. The healthcare community is seeing a greater number of bariatric patients, and that is having a direct impact on [long-term care] providers," said Karyn French, director of social services, Andover Village Retirement Community, Andover, OH. "If facilities aren't adequately equipped to accept these individuals, these people will have nowhere to go. We have people who travel for hours to get here because no one in their community is equipped to handle them."
Approximately 50 of Andover Village's 200 residents are admitted for obesity and weight loss issues. The facility has been providing bariatric care for nearly 10 years.


Vendors provide a lift


Providers committed to caring for bariatric residents say a greater availability of specialty equipment has made their jobs safer and easier. This can only be seen as good news.
Most injuries come from unsafe transferring and lifting of residents – of any size -- yet alone bariatric populations.
As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has kept up pressure on long-term care providers to educate and train workforces in proper resident handling and transferring techniques. Equipment plays a role, too, particularly with obese residents.
When Edward J. Healey Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in West Palm Beach, FL, made the decision in 1996 to include bariatric residents as a specialized care group, its administrator found only one wheelchair vendor that could accommodate residents beyond 250 pounds. Bariatric lifts, commodes, showers, walkers, beds and scales were also difficult to find – so much so that the center had to either shore up existing equipment or commission a Canadian company to make and ship specialty items, according to Edward J. Healey's administrator, Barbara Landy.
Increased demand from the long-term care sector has helped drive much of the development. Apex Dynamics Healthcare Products, Dawsonville, GA, launched its bariatric product line in October after receiving a greater volume of inquiries on lifts that could accommodate very heavy residents.
"We've even had inquiries about lifts that can accommodate 1,000 pounds," 400 pounds above its current maximum lift capacity, said Keith Cumming, director of sales and marketing.
Others have also seen an increase in interest. Greg Gale, vice president of marketing for Arjo, Roselle, IL, said more providers are recognizing the dangers of lifting residents and are outfitting some rooms with ceiling lifts that can accommodate residents weighing 600 pounds or more.
He recommends two parallel-running ceiling tracks and twin cassettes that can hold up to 900 pounds and allow for power positioning.


Paying a hefty price


Make no mistake, speciality bariatric equipment can cost a bundle. Landy said a single bariatric wheelchair can cost as much as $10,000, and the price of specialty lifts and slings can cost up to twice as much as their standard counterparts. Add to that the expense of bariatric beds and commodes, which can run as much as fiv