The obesity epidemic has gone from bad to worse as it takes its toll on the health of adults and children, and in Palm Beach County, emergency agencies have been forced to adapt.
Capt. Albert Borroto, spokesman for Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, said while his agency doesn’t keep statistics on how many bariatric patients they see each year, it has seen a growing number of patients who exceed 500 pounds.
Fire Rescue has an ambulance equip to handle bariatric patients — those weighing more than 500 pounds — during rescues. The station where the truck rests at is off of Stribling Way in Wellington because Fire Rescue considers the site to be central for the county.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 35.1 percent of adults older than 20 are obese in the United States.
Capt. Roy Morgan leads the team. He said it is called out at least two to three times a month for bariatric patients. Although most of the calls aren’t life-threatening, the ability to move patients safely for both those being rescued and those doing the rescuing is key, Morgan said.
Borroto said Fire Rescue obtained the ambulance in February 2012, taking it over from Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue. He said it made more sense for the county agency to control the ambulance to have it available to all the other fire rescue municipalities.
Some of the main features that make this ambulance different than the other trucks are reinforced ramps for wheeling up the stretcher, a pad with wings for the stretcher and a winch that pulls the stretcher up the ramps.
Morgan said a pad placed on the stretcher with “extended wings” gives more cushion and space for the large patients, making them easier to transport.
Sometimes it can take up to 10 rescue workers to move one patient and the moving can last as long as two hours to get the patient on the stretcher. In one case, he said the doorway was too small, so crews took out a window in the rear of the home to move the patient.
Morgan said the heaviest patient he could remember recently was 760 pounds, but he said he thought the heaviest his crew has had was someone who weighed about 1,000 pounds.
He said that although his crew has new equipment, including a plastic tarp to put under the patient to move them from a hard-to-reach area such as a small bedroom, “they have to get creative” when someone just won’t budge.
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