Nursing Homes Weighed Down By Obesity Struggle

The National Institutes of Health reports that almost 70 percent of American adults are overweight or obese. This extra weight not only strains the health of the individual, but places unique strains on our healthcare system as a whole. In fact, the number of moderate and severely obese people entering nursing homes has risen sharply to nearly 25 percent in 2010 from 14.7 percent in 2000 – and there’s no indication that the trend will reverse any time soon. The Census Bureau recently reported that while Baby Boomers are smoking and drinking less, more of them are packing on the pounds as they age. The data shows that 72 percent of older men are overweight or obese and 67percent of women are. With almost 70 percent of those age 65 and older needing long-term care at some point in their lives, the growing problem of obesity creates burdensome challenges for quality nursing home care.

A Complex Problem

Quality nursing home care is a function of many interconnected factors, including facility size, staffing levels, occupancy rate and the severity of the medical diagnoses of the patients. Obesity affects the complex system of nursing homes in a wide variety of ways, placing additional obstacles in the way of quality long-term care.
  • Equipment: Nursing homes cannot afford to care for severely obese patients because Medicaid does not reimburse them for the expensive, specialized equipment that is required, such as motorized lifts, beds that can handle more than 350 pounds, larger wheelchairs, longer intramuscular needles, bigger blood pressure cuffs, bedside commodes, and sturdier shower chairs. Many administrators are concerned about the infeasibility of remodeling older buildings with wider door frames and special plumbing to accommodate sturdier toilets. From a business standpoint, the safe handling of obese patients simply does not generate revenue.
  • Staff Injuries: Orderlies, nursing assistants, personal care aides, and registered nurses suffer more nonfatal on-the-job injuries than firefighters, police officers, and construction workers combined. Working with patients can be life-saving, rewarding, and back-breaking… particularly in consideration of the surging rate of obesity.
  • More Falls: Overweight residents are more likely to fall and to experience multiple falls resulting in injury. Data from the CDC confirms that falls often result in disability, functional decline and reduced quality of life. This increases the need for nursing care and medical interventions, further straining the nursing home’s resources.
  • Sicker Patients: The average nursing home patient is sicker than in the past. This has contributed to higher rates of injury and death caused by substandard care in a long-term care facility. Obese patients are at an increased risk for many serious health conditions that further contribute to the challenges of providing quality care for sicker patients in nursing homes.

A Problem for All Kentuckians

Kentucky has the 12th highest obesity rate in the country – 32 percent of adults are considered obese. Within the Bluegrass State, obesity-related health issues continue to worsen, including increased rates of diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and obesity-related cancers. In fact, the top 12 states with the highest rates of hypertension are in the South, as are nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of type 2 diabetes. However, no region of the country has immediate answers to the growing obesity epidemic and the strain it places on an individual’s health, and, consequently, the nursing homes that likely they will one day rely on.

Tips for Family & Friends

A nursing home resident’s weight is not only a health concern for the individual and nursing staff, but is a consideration for family and friends. When visiting and helping care for an overweight relative in a nursing home, keep in mind:
  • Do not attempt to move the patient without asking for assistance from staff.
  • Speak with the nursing home dietician to review any recommended dietary adjustments. Sometimes it makes sense to try to treat obesity in long-term care; other times it doesn’t. Each resident’s case is unique, but talking with the dietician is the first step.
  • Be aware of obesity-related health conditions, have conversations with healthcare providers and ask questions about how to help manage the patient’s health needs.
  • Make a proactive effort to safeguard, or improve, your own health. The last thing a nursing home resident needs is to worry about a sick or injured family member. Keeping yourself in shape allows you to be more supportive of their needs.

We Can Help

Since 1998, the Pikeville, KY-based Johnson Law Firm has been the trusted advocate for countless personal injury victims and their families. We also work on a contingency basis, which means that if there is no recovery, there is no fee or cost to you. If you wish to learn more about how our firm can be of assistance to you, or have more questions about this topic, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation by calling 606-437-4488 or filling out our online form.

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