By Jonathan Sher, Postmedia Network
With the fattening of Canadians costing London paramedics perhaps more than $100,000 a year for work lost to back injury, the local EMS has replaced all stretchers with powered models that lift up to 700 pounds.
The powered stretchers cost nearly $30,000 each, more than $1 million for 35, but paramedics say it’s a wise buy that will save backs, knees and the cost of filling in for those too hobbled to work.
“It will definitely decrease injuries and decrease long-term disability claims,” Jay Loosley, a superintendent at Middlesex London EMS, said Tuesday.
In what public health officials are calling the obesity epidemic, the population continues to gain weight
As recently as the 1980s, paramedics had to show they could lift a maximum of 165 pounds. But now, 10 per cent of Canadian men weight at least 228 pounds, EMS director Neil Roberts wrote when he asked Middlesex County council for funding.
“In what public health officials are calling the obesity epidemic, the population continues to gain weight,” Roberts wrote.
Back injuries last year accounted for nearly half of workplace insurance claims at the local EMS at a cost of $160,000. That doesn’t include the expense of modifying responsibilities when paramedics return to work.
So, rather than phase out the manual stretchers, as many EMS services have done, paramedics decided to replace all 35 at once — a move that may be the first-ever in Ontario.
“I’m not aware of any services that have done it all at once,” Loosley said.
With manual stretchers, paramedics raised and lowered the legs of the stretcher repeatedly to get patients on and off of ambulances, all while bearing the weight while one squeezed a lever to release the legs. That left paramedics lifting each patient five times, about 4,500 pounds lifted each day with just three trips to hospital.
The powered stretchers support up to 700 pounds and have legs that each go up or down with the touch of a button — prompting this slogan by the Ohio-based manufacturer Ferno: “Navigate obstacles with your thumb, not your back.”
Paramedics need only to lift patients onto the stretcher at the scene and take them off at hospital.
“(Paramedics) are really happy about their knees and backs,” Loosley said.
Paramedics also can also manoeuvre the powered stretchers over curbs and onto landings. Patients benefit too, Loosley said, because the new stretchers provide more support and cushioning.
“It’s a more comfortable and secure ride,” he said.
The manual stretchers, some as old as 20 years, were sold, while the new models arrived late last year, with training on how best to use them continuing this week.
The county council backed the purchase of the most expensive of three models but only after paramedics test drove each, finding that only one model — the Ferno iN/X — had everything needed. Two other models would needed additional technology and equipment to be bought separately. The county manages the EMS that also serves London.