The sector has been much slower, however, to tackle other, subtler ways obesity weighs on the healthcare system, such as the toll of physically handling larger patients, despite the vast medical and financial benefits of doing so, nurses and other medical experts have claimed.
In 2011, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics said hospital workers had twice the average rate of on-the-job injuries from overexerting themselves, citing lifting, moving and repositioning patients as the top risk factor.
Even turning a 100-pound patient on her side puts about 1,000 pounds of pressure on the mover’s back, said injured nurse Elizabeth White (60). She has now started a company that sells a machine called ErgoNurse to lift and move patients in hospital beds.
Emily Gardner, a worker health and safety advocate at a Washington non-profit agency, which has published a report on safe patient handling, says only three to 25 per cent of hospitals and other healthcare facilities in the US have contraptions such as ceiling lifts or other machinery to ease the strain on nurses.
“Places that own equipment do not always train workers to use it. Hospitals know that it’s a problem,” Gardner said. “However, there are so many other issues they’re facing that they haven’t prioritised this as they should.”
To date, 11 US states have instituted safe patient handling laws, which call for healthcare facilities to have patient lifting equipment and training to use it. Experts also pointed out these laws benefit patients by preventing injuries and preserving dignity.