DENVER — Michele Lujan needed a wheelchair for her 52-year-old husband who had been hospitalized with Covid-19. But she had lost her job and money was tight. Insurance wouldn’t cover the cost, and she didn’t see the point of buying something to meet a temporary need. So she turned to a loan closet not far from her home in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch.
To South Metro Medical Equipment Loan Closet, crutches hanging from the walls, knee scooters lined up on the floor, and shower seats and toilet risers overflowing the shelves. She found a wheelchair that she could borrow for free.
“I hadn’t realized all the other medical items they had,” Lujan said.
Medical equipment reuse programs like these collect, clean and loan devices – often at no cost to the borrower. They vary in size, from small outposts in community churches to large statewide programs like the Rehabilitation Equipment and Endowment Foundationor FREE, which provided nearly 5,000 devices to thousands of low-income adults and seniors in Virginia last year.
These programs save low-income, uninsured patients money, and by refurbishing used medical equipment, they keep it out of landfills. During the pandemic, the programs have also helped mitigate the impact of supply chain shortages and are helping to meet increased demand as delayed elective surgeries resume.
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“Once hospitals started doing elective surgeries again, the need increased dramatically,” said Donna Ralston, who founded the South Metro Medical Equipment Loan Closet six years ago in a 10-by-10-foot shed in her church.
Today, the volunteer-run organization opens its warehouse doors by appointment to anyone in need recovering from surgery, illness or injury. “Often we lend equipment to patients who would otherwise have to wait two months to get it from their insurer,” said the organization’s president, Pat Benhmida. “We fill in those cracks quite often.”
In addition to insurance delays, hospitals across the United States have reported not having enough walkers, crutches, canes and wheelchairs. Supplies are tight due to shortages of raw materials such as aluminum, said Alok Bavejaprofessor of supply chain management at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey.
“Availability, not just cost, impacts the durable medical equipment industry,” Baveja said.
The crisis could be compounded by disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, American Hospital Association spokesman Colin Milligan said.
Aluminum prices have more than doubled over the past two years, with more than 20 percent over the last six months on the London Metals Exchange. A bill passed by Congress on Thursday to suspend normal trade relations with Russia will allow President Joe Biden to raise tariffs on aluminum and other imports from that country, raising aluminum prices even further. ‘aluminum.
Baveja said one of the positive aspects of the pandemic is that repurposed medical equipment has been better accepted and used.
Last September and again in January, hospitals in southwest Virginia delayed patient discharge due to shortages of walkers and bedside dressers, and they experienced backlogs of ER patients due to a shortage of hospital beds, said Robin Ramsey, executive director of FREE, a non-profit organization.
Ramsey said that for weeks FREE was the only supplier to have walkers and bedside dressers on hand. “During the shortage, we found that even insured people, who could have bought a walker, just couldn’t find one,” Ramsey said.
Each state receives money to provide technology to help people with disabilities under the federal program Assistive Technology Act 1998. This may include reusable technology and equipment. Reuse programs rely on cash and equipment donations, and often an army of volunteers who inspect, sanitize and repair wheels, brakes, casters, batteries and other parts.
AT FREE, more than 100 volunteers and 12 staff last year received 10,000 donated pieces of equipment and refurbished 6,500 to put them back into service, Ramsey said.
Elliot Sloyer, founder of a Stamford, Connecticut nonprofit called Wheel It Forward, said patients and their families often pay out of pocket for durable medical equipment, especially with health insurance plans. high deductible. “Medicare insurance doesn’t cover a lot of things. They make it difficult,” he said.
Medical equipment reuse programs provide significant practical value to communities, Ramsey said. But, she says, some people have no idea these programs exist until they need them.
Regional directories such as Great Lakes Loan Cabinets list reuse programs in Michigan, Wisconsin, northern Indiana and northern Illinois. Wheel It Forward plans to launch the first national directory of approximately 700 medical equipment reuse programs.
For now, reuse programs like FREE will continue to store and repair donated medical equipment.
“There are times, especially with everything that’s happened in the last couple of years, where equipment goes in and out on the same day,” Ramsey said. “The need was so great.”