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A bariatric ambulance is an ambulance designed and equipped to transport very large people. These vehicles are capable of meeting the needs of obese patients who need transport to a hospital or other health care facility. Typically, these ambulances are larger than average ambulances and are equipped with large, reinforced wheeled cots for patients as well as ramps that are capable of sustaining heavy loads. The bariatric ambulance not only protects the well-being and dignity of those in need of such an accommodation, but it can also protect emergency response workers, who risk back strain and other injuries while attempting to transport an obese patient. In some communities, those patients who require the services of a bariatric ambulance may be charged a premium over the cost of normal ambulance services due to the additional expense of purchasing and maintaining the specially designed vehicle.
While most ambulances are capable of accommodating people of various shapes and sizes, some individuals are so obese that they cannot fit on an ambulance cot or inside a standard ambulance. There is also a significant risk of both patient and emergency worker injury in situations where a cot or ramp collapses while transporting the patient to or from the ambulance. Some bariatric ambulances can safely transport and carry an individual who weighs up to as much as 1,200 pounds (about 544 kg).
Bariatric ambulances may be used under both emergency and nonemergency conditions. For example, if an obese person is in an accident or suffers a serious health emergency, family members could inform emergency dispatch services of the need for a bariatric ambulance to prevent unnecessary delays in getting medical care for their loved one. In other cases, an obese individual may be too large to ride in average size vehicles or may even be bedridden and unable to get to a car on his or her own. In such cases, the bariatric ambulance can help the person get to a health care facility for appropriate medical treatment.
The practice of adding a surcharge onto the cost of a normal ambulance for those who make use of a bariatric ambulance is controversial. Some advocates argue that this surcharge is unfair and discriminatory against those who are significantly overweight. Those who support the additional charges argue that they are necessary to allow communities to continue to offer this service, as there are additional expenses involved in manufacturing and maintaining a bariatric ambulance.