Heavy patients multiply costs for hospitals, clinics

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the medical cost of obesity in the United States at $147 billion annually.

That doesn't include the money hospitals and doctors spend each year on the tools needed to care for increasingly heavy patients.

Locally, hundreds of thousands of dollars go for heavy-duty hospital beds, training to prevent employee injuries, remodeling to accommodate extra-wide wheelchairs and similar costs.

A hospital bed that will support a 500-pound patient costs 35 to 50 percent more than a standard bed, and a bariatric wheelchair is two to 2 1/2 times the cost of a regular one, estimated Nancy McMaster, director of supply chain operations at Wesley Medical Center.

"We hardly buy any regular wheelchairs anymore," said Cal Frye, corporate director of supply chain services for Via Christi Health. "We don't know when we're going to need them for sure, so we just end up buying the wide wheelchairs."

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