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Foundation event scheduled to raise funding for high-tech hospital beds

A closeup of the touch screen that programs many of the specialized features on the new bariatric bed in Rice Memorial Hospital's intensive care unit. Tribune photo by Anne Polta

WILLMAR -- With a touch on a keypad, Angie Beyerl, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at Rice Memorial Hospital, can automatically tilt the mattress on the ICU's bariatric bed, allowing a patient to be turned safely and comfortably.

Another feature gently inflates the mattress with circulating air to reduce the patient's risk of pressure ulcers.

The bed is motorized too, making it easier to transport patients for procedures such as surgery or imaging scans.

Similar high-tech beds have been introduced throughout the ICU in recent months. "We like them," Beyerl said.

In hospitals, a bed isn't just a bed; it's also one of the key tools for safe patient care.

Money raised this weekend for the Rice Health Foundation's annual holiday gala will help the hospital buy several value-added features for beds and stretchers.

The fundraiser, which is Friday and Saturday, typically raises $65,000 to $70,000 each year for a designated program or project at Rice Hospital.

Kathy Hunt, director of critical care services, said the value-added features to the hospital's beds and stretchers will make a big difference for patient care.

"We're talking about patient comfort and we're talking about staff safety," she said.

New technology has made hospital beds far more versatile. The bariatric bed in Rice Hospital's intensive care unit, for instance, can be automatically tilted upright into a sitting position, all without having to move or tug at the patient.

This feature, and others like it, makes it easier for the nursing staff to care for very sick patients who often are immobile and hooked up to IVs or a ventilator. "For intubated patients it helps a lot," said registered nurse Tom Bruns.

Built-in scales allow patients to be weighed while they're in bed. Hospital beds can even be tailored to the patient's height, said Jesse Valladarez, a nursing service technician.

"If you have a patient who's taller or shorter, you can lengthen or shorten the bed," he said.

Beds and stretchers also now come with motors, eliminating the need for staff to have to manually push a bed or stretcher down hallways and through doors.

Not only will it be safer and more comfortable for patients, but it's also safer for employees, Hunt said.

Back strains are the leading occupational injury among health care workers. In severe cases, a back injury can be career-ending.

Rice Hospital upgraded many of its hospital beds this past year. The purchases included four beds for the intensive care unit, nine for the birthing suite and 40 for the adult care unit.

They don't come cheaply. The birthing beds, for example, cost about $14,000 apiece, said Chuck Roelofs, director of materials management. A motorized stretcher comes with a $12,000 price tag, and the hospital's new bariatric bed cost $32,600.

While most of this is included in the hospital's annual capital budget, the value-added features go above and beyond the basics.

"These are those special features that give you so much more," Hunt said.

The money from the Rice Health Foundation event will allow more motorized drive units to be purchased for beds and stretchers. The hospital hopes to acquire mattress modules with features such as auto-rotation that gently moves critically ill patients from one side to the other, and gentle pulsation that helps loosen fluid in the lungs for patients with breathing disorders.

"We hope to buy as many modules as we can," Roelofs said. They can range from $2,000 to $8,000, he said.

There also are plans to buy a low bed, which is six or seven inches lower than the standard hospital bed. Low beds, coupled with special mats on the floor, can help reduce the likelihood of injury for patients at risk of falling.

Many of the patients expected to benefit from the value-added technology are those who are the sickest, frailest and most medically challenging, Hunt said.

"We can add the features that will now make it better for everybody," she said.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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