As Americans’ waistlines continue to expand, efforts to accommodate the obese population are growing as well.
Bigger bodies need larger, sturdier equipment, ranging in scope from waiting room chairs to caskets, and local service providers are making moves to ensure they are well prepared to serve the growing number of plus-size clients.
On March 4, Ellis Medicine relocated its Bariatric Care Center, which offers a surgical weight loss program, to a new facility in Niskayuna.
“The new space was fitted with the bariatric patient population in mind, with wide doorways and hallways and other accommodations to make patients feel comfortable and ensure their safety,” said bariatric clinical coordinator Anne Jones, in an email.
Ellis has made accommodations throughout its local facilities, including expanded-capacity chairs, beds, stretchers, wheelchairs and walkers; floor-mounted toilets, which can support more weight than wall-mounted ones; and operating room tables that can hold up to 1,000 pounds.
According to Jones, Ellis also utilizes lifts and other tools to assist in transporting patients; extra-long and -wide blood pressure cuffs; and imaging equipment that can accommodate larger body sizes.
In the waiting room at SRPC Medical Imaging in Niskayuna, cushioned chairs twice the size of the original ones have been added to accommodate plus-size clients.
Last August, the business also installed a new MRI machine that can scan patients that weigh up to 550 pounds, replacing a unit with a 350-pound limit. The circular opening in the machine is wider in diameter, allowing extra room for larger body sizes.
In a nearby room is a CT Scan machine that can accommodate patients up to 500 pounds. Several years ago, it replaced one that was rated for patients up to 350 pounds.
“The table raises and lowers the patient, so it has to be more robust for that, and to slide them in and out of the scanner,” explained Eric Wagle, a physician at the imaging center.
The technology used in the CT Scan machine has been adapted to ensure the ability to obtain accurate images of larger-size bodies, he said.
Local ambulance services are also beefing up their equipment to make sure they can handle the heaviest patients.
Fulton County Ambulance Service used to only have stretchers that held up to 500 pounds. A few years ago, they purchased one that could hold 700 pounds, but recently had to replace it after it broke under the weight of an obese patient, according to Denise Milnyczuk, who works as a secretary for the service.
Most of the stretchers used by the Wilton Emergency Squad can hold up to 700 pounds, but the group has invested in a wider one that can hold up to 1,600.
The squad also has a backboard rated to 1,100 pounds, used when their regular ones, which are rated for up to 400 pounds, aren’t strong enough.
Chief Nash Alexander said there has been an increased need for the sturdier equipment.
Transporting a body from the place of death to a funeral home often takes more manpower than it used to — at times up to six people, said John Ferrari, owner of Ferrari Funeral Home in Schenectady.
“Sometimes you have to get extra help, especially if someone passes away at home,” he said.
Many funeral homes now have ceiling-mounted body lifts to assist in placing bodies in caskets.
Embalming tables are being made to support extra weight and some have leaves that can be raised to accommodate larger bodies.
Over the past 10 years, the selection of plus-size caskets has greatly expanded, Ferrari noted.
“They run in letter sizes, like double wides, triple wides — there are even some the size of queen-size beds,” he said.
Plus-size caskets come with plus-size costs. The price for a lower-end style jumps by almost $1,000 for a similar oversized model, and goes up further for even larger sizes, he estimated.
Extra-large burial vaults, which caskets are placed in prior to interment, cost more, too.
As caskets have grown in size, hearses have as well. Newer models have wider back ends and larger rear doors.
“I know there have been some issues with oversized caskets tearing the sides of the hearse up — the fabric in the rear of the hearse — because [the casket] just doesn’t fit correctly,” Ferrari explained.
Before booking a funeral home, those mourning a plus-sized family member should make sure the location can accommodate an extra-large casket. It can be a tight squeeze in some of the older homes, Ferrari cautioned.
“Sometimes you have to take down the doors; the hallways are too narrow,” he explained.