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PT on the Run

Do You Have the Right Stuff?

Published March 13, 2014 4:12 PM by Michael Kelley

I've written before about the obesity epidemic in this country and the potential impact PTs can have in perhaps helping turn the tide in this seemingly endless battle. But when dealing with obesity, prevention isn't everything. As PTs, we are tasked every day with treating patients who are already overweight or obese, and it falls on us to ensure that we do our best to improve their quality of life while still maintaining the patient's safety as well as our own.

A while back, our supervisor told us that our risk-management and employee health divisions said no employee should be lifting more than 30 pounds. When we heard this, most of our staff chuckled. We laughed because every single one of us knew this was a completely unrealistic aspiration. I personally have treated patients with BMIs well into the 60s, but even more mildly obese patients may require more than 30 pounds of lift assistance.

Our hospital system did some analysis last year and identified units where employees were being injured the most. Obviously any on-the-job injury costs the corporation money, so they made a significant investment in mechanical lift equipment that we're now supposed to use when mobilizing heavier patients. For the nursing staff, this is great. They can safely maneuver patients while maintaining their own well-being. For therapists, however, we are charged with a much more complicated task. We need to actually help patients move. Using machines to move the patient doesn't do the patient any good.

We do have one particular machine at work that's essentially a mechanical stander. The problem: It has a weight limit of 300 pounds. From a safety and liability standpoint, I wouldn't break that weight limit for anything, but I wonder if not only my hospital, but hospitals around the country should invest in at least some mobility equipment that's actually designed for morbidly obese patients.

What do you think? Patients who are overweight or obese still deserve our attention, no doubt, but at what cost? Do employers have some responsibility to ensure their employees have the right equipment to effectively treat every patient who comes through the door, regardless of size?

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