As Americans keep getting bigger, hospitals are revamping themselves to accommodate an influx of obese patients.
When these patients check into a hospital, they are increasingly likely to find themselves in a room with a wider doorway than the 106-centimetre standard, a bed that holds up to 450 kilograms and a ceiling lift system to move them to the bathroom.
Toilets in such a room are extra-sturdy and mounted to the floor instead of a wall.
The number of obesity, or bariatric, surgeries performed each year has quadrupled since 2000, according to the American Society for Bariatric Surgery. The procedures generally involve surgically shrinking the stomach and bypassing the intestines to cause the patient to absorb less food.
The obese often defined as weighing 20 per cent or more than medically recommended levels - are also more likely to suffer from chronic medical ailments like diabetes and severe joint problems, bringing them into the hospital.
As a result, more hospitals are making capital investments to set up separate wings and whole floors for obese patients to keep up with demand.
"There is a huge volume of patients that need services, and until we get a better pill for weight loss, we have a big problem," said Daniel Jones, chief of bariatric surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston.
One-third of Americans are obese by US health standards, which measure a person's body fat. The prevalence of obesity has doubled in that past 25 years, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and experts predict a steady rise in coming years.
In January, the 585-bed Beth Israel hospital opened a new bariatric unit after gutting an entire floor to construct 30 new rooms with specially-designed weight-bearing beds.
"Before, we just sent (bariatric patients) anywhere, like at the Holiday Inn," Jones said. "But the problem with that is you need the right equipment and medical staff who are specially trained."
Tenet Healthcare Corporation, the second-biggest US hospital chain, recently issued requirements for an obesity programme including infrastructure-readiness at its 71 hospitals.
About 30 Tenet hospitals offer bariatric programmes, according to Paulette Sams, director of general surgery.
The number of US hospitals running obesity programmes rose 45 per cent to about 840 in 2004 from 2002, according to a survey of about 4,600 hospitals by the American Hospital Association trade group.
San Francisco's Laguna Honda Hospital, which with 1,000 beds is the largest US long-term care facility, is building 24 new bariatric rooms designed with ceiling lifts that can route patients to extra-sturdy toilets.
"We are planning for the future, for this burgeoning obesity epidemic nationally," said Associate Administrator Lawrence Funk. "We would be remiss if we did not."
Laguna hopes the investment will pay off with a reduction in staff injuries, which are common when medical staff deal with the obese population without special equipment, Funk said.
Source: China Daily