Refurbished Walkers and Wheelchairs Fill Gaps Created by Supply Chain Problems

DENVER — Michele Lujan wanted a wheelchair for her 52-year-old husband who had been hospitalized with covid-19. However she had misplaced her job, and cash was tight. Insurance coverage wouldn’t cowl the associated fee, and he or she didn’t see the use in shopping for one thing to satisfy a brief want. So she turned to a mortgage closet not removed from her house within the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch.

At South Metro Medical Equipment Loan Closet, crutches hung from the partitions, knee scooters lined the ground, and bathe seats and bathroom risers overflowed from the cabinets. She discovered a wheelchair she might borrow totally free.

“I didn’t notice all the opposite medical gadgets they’ve,” Lujan mentioned.

Medical tools reuse applications like these acquire, clear, and lend gadgets — usually without charge to the borrower. They differ in dimension from small outposts at group church buildings to giant statewide applications just like the Foundation for Rehabilitation Equipment and Endowment, or FREE, which supplied almost 5,000 gadgets to 1000’s of low-income adults and seniors in Virginia final yr.

Such applications save low-income and uninsured sufferers cash, and by refurbishing used medical tools, they hold it out of landfills. In the course of the pandemic, the applications have additionally helped soften the influence of provide chain-related shortages and are serving to meet elevated demand as delayed elective surgical procedures resume.

“As soon as hospitals began elective surgical procedures once more, there was an enormous enhance in want,” mentioned Donna Ralston, who based the South Metro Medical Tools Mortgage Closet six years in the past in a 10-feet-by-10-feet shed at her church.

At present, the volunteer-run group opens its warehouse doorways by appointment to anybody who’s in want and recovering from surgical procedure, sickness, or damage. “Oftentimes, we’re loaning tools to sufferers who would in any other case have to attend two months to get it from their insurance coverage suppliers,” mentioned the group’s president, Pat Benhmida. “We fill in these cracks very often.”

Apart from insurance coverage delays, hospitals throughout the U.S. have reported not having sufficient walkers, crutches, canes, and wheelchairs. Provides are restricted due to shortages of uncooked supplies comparable to aluminum, mentioned Alok Baveja, a professor of provide chain administration at Rutgers Enterprise College in New Jersey.

“The provision, not simply the associated fee, has an influence on the sturdy medical tools business,” Baveja mentioned.

The crunch could also be made worse by disruptions brought on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, mentioned American Hospital Affiliation spokesperson Colin Milligan.

Aluminum costs have greater than doubled up to now two years, together with greater than 20% over the previous six months on the London Metal Exchange. A invoice that handed Congress April 7 to droop regular commerce relations with Russia will permit President Joe Biden to lift tariffs on aluminum and different imports from that nation, rising aluminum costs much more.

Baveja mentioned one silver lining of the pandemic is that reused medical tools has gained better acceptance and use.

Final September and once more in January, southwestern Virginia hospitals delayed discharging sufferers due to shortages of walkers and bedside commodes, they usually skilled backlogs of sufferers within the emergency room due to a scarcity of hospital beds, mentioned Robin Ramsey, govt director of FREE, a nonprofit group.

Ramsey mentioned that for weeks, FREE was the one supplier that had walkers and bedside commodes readily available. “In the course of the scarcity, we discovered that even individuals with insurance coverage, who might have bought a walker, simply couldn’t discover one,” Ramsey mentioned.

a woman wearing scrubs looks at rows of walkers and wheelchairs
A bunch of native bodily therapists volunteered on the Basis for Rehabilitation Tools and Endowment in Virginia Seashore on World PT Day. (Robin Ramsey)

Tools technician Jan Kupidluvsky makes use of a pressurized steamer to sanitize a wheelchair on the Basis for Rehabilitation Tools and Endowment in Salem, Virginia. (Robin Ramsey)

Every state receives cash to supply know-how to assist individuals with disabilities as a part of the federal Assistive Technology Act of 1998. That may embrace reusable know-how and tools. Reuse applications depend on money and tools donations, and infrequently a military of volunteers who examine, sanitize, and restore wheels, brakes, casters, batteries, and different components.

AT FREE, greater than 100 volunteers and 12 staffers final yr acquired 10,000 items of donated tools, and refurbished 6,500 to place again into use, Ramsey mentioned.

Elliot Sloyer, founding father of a Stamford, Connecticut, nonprofit known as Wheel It Ahead, mentioned sufferers and their households usually pay out-of-pocket for sturdy medical tools, particularly with high-deductible medical health insurance plans. “Medicare, insurance coverage don’t cowl numerous stuff. They make it tough,” he mentioned.

Medical tools reuse applications present important, sensible worth to communities, mentioned Ramsey. However, she mentioned, some individuals don’t know these applications exist till they want them.

Regional directories such because the Great Lakes Loan Closets checklist reuse applications in Michigan, Wisconsin, northern Indiana, and northern Illinois. Wheel It Ahead plans to launch the primary nationwide listing of about 700 medical tools reuse applications.

For now, reuse applications like FREE will proceed to stockpile and restore donated medical tools.

“There are occasions, particularly with all that’s gone on within the final two years, that tools is available in and goes out the identical day,” Ramsey mentioned. “The necessity has been so nice.”

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