New solution for obese patients too late for injured nurse

 In 2005, an injured worker’s life was changed forever when he severely injured his back.  He never complained when he was required to assist morbidly obese patients that was his job, until one day his back could take no more. He then spent two years waiting for his surgery to be approved and had to sell his home to pay the bills.
”I had to wait nine months after the surgery to get a doctor’s report for my claim,” The injured worker said. ”I was told I would get a lump-sum payment of about $250,000. But two weeks before that could happen, the government changed the workers’ compensation scheme and I was told I would get nothing because my level of impairment won’t be recognised under the new system. I feel like the insurance company is now being rewarded by ripping up all my rights retrospectively.”

THE state’s biggest hospital has built special rooms catering for people weighing up to 500kg to prepare for a rise in obese patients.

The rooms at Liverpool Hospital feature overhead pulleys that can turn and lift people weighing up to 500kg, beds for people weighing up to 450kg, and strengthened armchairs for their family members, who are often also morbidly obese.

The hospital has also stocked up on bariatric commodes for the toilet, reinforced wheelchairs and a special shuttle – similar to a golf buggy – so obese patients can move around the hospital.

The weight capacity of the average bed has also been lifted from 250kg to 300kg.

Michelle Nicholson, the clinical resources nurse manager at Liverpool Hospital, said the 39 bariatric bed spaces in 18 rooms were built as part of the redevelopment in 2011.

“We took that into consideration when we were planning the redevelopment, as we did get a lot of bariatric patients and we’ve run into difficulties nursing them,” Ms Nicholson said. “There were some beds in some of our old buildings that couldn’t go through doorways, so that meant the patient couldn’t go into that ward. The new beds get used by non-bariatric patients if the ward is full.”

Injuries to nurses have decreased since the equipment was introduced.

“I’ve looked after patients between 300kg and 350kg,” Ms Nicholson said. “Looking after them is a job in itself.

“Just to turn someone who’s quite dependent on nursing care can take six to eight people. On an afternoon or night shift you might only have four nurses on that shift, so you might need to call in ward orderlies and other people to help.”

Patients who can’t fit into standard MRI machines are having to use a special upright MRI at an imaging centre in Blacktown.

Other major hospitals in Sydney, including newly renovated Royal North Shore, also have bariatric beds.

Smaller hospitals that don’t have the equipment can hire it if the need arises, a Health Department spokeswoman said.

The only study to have measured the impact and growth of obesity in NSW, which was conducted at Manning Base Hospital, in Taree on the mid north coast, showed a near tenfold increase in obese patients from 2001 to 2011.

“In 2001 we had 37 bariatric patients,” said author of the study Eddie Wood, who until recently was the manual handling co-ordinator for the Hunter New England Health Service. “By 2011 we had 354 and the heaviest was a 23-year-old lady who weighed 293kg.

“We had to manage our patients, and you can’t manage a 250kg patient with- out equipment; patients get injured, staff get injured.”

Mr Wood, now a private manual handling consultant, said protocols introduced to deal with bariatric patients reduced nurse injuries.

Problems with bariatric patients are now also affecting nursing homes, where patients are starting to weigh more than the 130kg bed limit.

The latest National Health Survey, run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, reveals that 63.4 per cent of adults are now overweight, up from 61 per cent two years ago.

One in four children is also overweight, the survey found.

Editor’s Note: Name of worker suppressed at their request.