Dr. Camarata modeling some of the used medical equipment he loans for free
Dr. Camarata modeling some of the used medical equipment he loans for free

Last time I was in a doctor’s office, I needed a sling for my shoulder. He stepped out of the office, and moments later walked back in with a brand-new sling, still in the package. “Just bring that back when you’re done with it, okay?” Was my insurance paying for this nice, new, perfect-fit sling? No. Dr. Camarata, the PCP for our small mountain town, buys them out of pocket. Does he get even a percentage back? No. He just likes to keep them on hand because, well, he’s a doctor, and his patients need things like slings, and walking boots, and back braces, and wheelchairs…

What surprised me the most was that he was able – or allowed, to give used medical equipment to his patients. Anyone who has visited a clinic in Boulder, for example, will note that everything comes fresh out of plastic, and they will not under any condition accept used medical equipment under the pretense of a small, but real, liability.

Life in the mountains, however, is far more practical. “A guy breaks his leg at Eldora.” Camarata tells me, “Wife comes in crying, ‘do you have any crutches?’ Sure. bring ‘em back when you’re done with them – I know they won’t come back.” Dr. Camarata says with his characteristic chuckle. “I might give a prescription to get crutches. But they gotta go down the hill. I have no way of knowing whether insurance pays for it or not. I may write a prescription for crutches knowing the patient may not get it for a couple days, but they need it now.” So, his solution is to keep enough on hand so that when someone comes in who needs medical equipment – his office is ready and willing to fill that need. Dr. Camarata is not going to wait for insurance to approve medically necessary equipment that you really needed yesterday – nobody walks (or wheels) out of his office empty handed.

Dr. Camarata makes sure all the equipment that is donated (or returned) is safe and clean. Ace bandages can be washed and reused, as long as they are not put on open wounds. He even has a few pairs of USB foot-warming slippers. “We have plenty of four-wheel walkers right now, but we could really use another wheelchair, and we always need crutches.”

Gilpin County’s hidden treasure

Where do folks go for used medical equipment in Gilpin County? The answer, to my surprise, was the Gilpin County Senior Services Coordinator/Angel-in-disguise Mary Ellen Makosky. Keeping inventory of used medical equipment is not strictly within her job description, but it’s an ongoing need for the people she serves. “People just come in and say, can I borrow a wheelchair so I can go to the game? or take my mom to a political rally? of course.” Occasionally she will find a pair of crutches or a walker for Gilpin residents who recently had surgery or were in an accident. No prescription required here. “We try to keep track of that stuff,” Mary Ellen shared with me, “who takes it and what date. Sometimes things happen when people pass away and nobody knows who that stuff belongs to. I try to get a Gilpin county sticker on them, but still they don’t always come back.”

Mary Ellen Makosky is the trusted keeper of this precious resource for rural mountain communities
Mary Ellen Makosky is the trusted keeper of this precious resource for rural mountain communities

Because tracking used medical equipment is not a full-time service, storage space is a challenge. While Dr. Camarata’s storage is akin to a small walk-in closet, the provisional storage at Gilpin County Human Services is about the size of a broom closet. “When one of our senior’s husband passed away she called me and said do you want the potty chairs and walkers and all of the things he was in need of during the time he was ill. I said I would love to have them but I don’t have the space. She said ‘I do’. So she has a room in her house where she keeps all the things that get donated – wheelchairs, toilet seats, walkers, tub seats, shower seats.”

Sometimes Mary Ellen’s office is brimming with wheelchairs, other times she simply doesn’t have enough of the right equipment to meet demand. “Somebody needed a shower chair and it hadn’t been returned and we didn’t write down the name and never found out who it was.”

Mary Ellen tries to keep track of the equipment as it comes and goes, but keeping inventory and tracking people down is incredibly time consuming. “What I really want you to highlight is this big piece about donating equipment that is no longer needed, or bringing it back if you’ve borrowed it. We can’t keep it going if we don’t continue to get our stuff back in good working-order, and clean.” For Mary Ellen, items such as toilet risers and shower chairs are in demand especially for someone who recently had hip surgery or a knee replacement. “When people donate these things, that’s wonderful and then we can continue to share them…it takes a village!”

What’s in YOUR closet?

home medical equipment           Do you live in the Peak to Peak region (between Idaho Springs and Estes Park) and have used medical equipment – clean and in good, working order – that you are no longer using? The Holistic Homestead will pick up your used medical equipment and take it to a local distribution point so that your wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, shower chairs, raised toilet seats, portable commodes, walking boots, cervical collars, slings, ace bandages, knee and back braces and even USB foot warming slippers can find a new life helping others in our community to live better! Contact Arwen directly at (720) 459 – 0442 or theholistichomestead@gmail.com to arrange a pick-up.

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3 thoughts on “The Hidden Life of Used Medical Equipment

    1. Hi Tom,

      Sorry for taking a while to respond to your comment. If you are in the Peak to Peak region of Colorado (between Idaho Springs and Estes Park, CO) The Holistic Homestead can facilitate helping you to procure a portable oxygen concentrator for little or no money. You may contact us directly at theholistichomestead@gmail.com. If you are not in our area, there are resources common to many communities like thrift stores, salvation army stores, used medical equipment discount stores, senior citizen centers and groups, your local health and human service providers, etc. Good luck!

      – Arwen

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