A swelling count of patients weighing more than 400 pounds have forced paramedics across the United States to beef up their ambulances. The new stretchers can carry 1,600 lbs., about what a Euro-version Smart car weighs.

Paramedics increasingly report seeing more people on a regular basis who needed extra hands to lift or had to be hoisted by tarps instead of standard stretchers, whose capacity tops out at 500 lbs. In central Mississippi, a state where one-third of the population hits the definition of "obese," the heaviest patient transported to date weighed 700 pounds. In the Washington, D.C., area, paramedics say every few months they need to carry someone pushing 600 lbs., and a few have pushed beyond the half-ton mark.

And it's not just emergencies; many such patients need services such as kidney dialysis and have to be transported on a regular schedule.

New "bariatric" units use special, extra-wide stretchers (just $9,300 on Amazon.com), metal loading ramps and an electric winch built into the ambulance bay floor to haul the stretcher in. Without them, paramedics risked dropping heavy patients, along with knee and back injuries.


In unrelated news, we're having carrots for lunch.

[ClarionLedger.com} Photo credit: Greg Jensen, Clarion Ledger