Increasing Elderly, Obese Population Affects Emergency Health Services

By: Madeline Anderson Email
By: Madeline Anderson Email

Wausau paramedics respond to nearly 5,000 call each year with just three ambulances. The majority of those calls are for health problems that affect our aging population.

"In 2011, patients between the ages of 81 and 90 were close to 900 of our calls," said Josh Finke, the EMS division chief for the Wausau Fire Dept. "And people between the ages of 91 and 100 actually made up over 500 of our calls. The ambulances are definitely busier. We do get stretched a little at times."

Now, as doctors and researchers make further advances in healthcare, our country's 65 and older age group will nearly double from 40 million to 70 million over the next two decades.

But just because we'll live longer, doesn't mean we'll be healthier. Obesity rates are expected to reach nearly 60 percent in Wis. by 2030. And that also weighs downs on paramedics' resources.

"As time goes on, all we can do is keep an eye on those numbers," Finke said. "Certainly since we did see an increase of nearly 1,000 calls in the last nine years, and an increase in the next nine, we would have some difficulty responding to that many calls with out current staffing."

At area hospitals like Aspirus Wausau, it's the same story.

"The increase in the number of patient visits has been very challenging for us as far as being able to have adequate staffing," said Todd Sann, the director of the emergency department.

Emergency rooms and responders are beginning to adapt their care to fit our new shape and lifespan.

"We will have a case management nurse station right here in the emergency department that will be able to assist elderly patients and secure enough community resources so that they can remain at home and not have to come to the hospital," Sann said.

"We send extra people, number one, so it's safer for the [obese] patients," Finke said.

Despite those cost and life saving measures, there's no doubt Americans will pay the price. Medical bills, wait times and taxes will most likely go up to help hospitals and fire departments meet our growing needs.

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