How to give free medical equipment to your community

home medical equipment

In 2015, I dislocated my shoulder. Luckily, nothing was fully torn through or broken, but the micro-tears in the ligaments of my shoulder, coupled with a pinched nerve that ran from under my scapula, down my arm, and all the way to the tip of my thumb proved to be painful enough.

It’s now 2019, and that shoulder still creaks, cracks, pops and smarts. But I wouldn’t be half as well if it weren’t for the kindness of the one, small-town doc in Nederland who gave me a shoulder sling, fresh out of the packaging, for free.

doctor standing with walker, stethoscope, neck brace, and walking boot
Dr. Camarata modeling some of the used medical equipment he loans for free

It turns out, Dr. Camarata at Columbine Family Health in Nederland has a whole closet full of durable medical equipment – things like walkers, canes, crutches, wheelchairs, walking boots, and arm slings – that he gives away, no questions asked, no insurance necessary.

Read: The Hidden Life of Used Medical Equipment

“A guy came in here fresh off the slopes with a broken leg. He wasn’t from here, and he wasn’t a patient, but I wasn’t going to send him down the hill (i.e., a 20 mile drive down Boulder Canyon to the nearest city) without a pair of crutches. I’ll probably never see those crutches again, but at least he had them when he needed them.” Camarata told me.

Read more inspiring stories about our UDME lending closets

Gilpin Seniors Medical Equipment
Mary Ellen Makosky is the trusted keeper of this precious resource for rural mountain communities

I was astounded to learn that there’s a whole network of good-hearted mountain folks who store (or hoard, as the case may be) valuable items to give away when a neighbor is in need. It occurred to me that this is an uniquely “mountain style” or “rural” solution to the obvious problem of being far away from definitive medical care, and – frankly – all of us being subjected to a broken medical system in which it may take several weeks to get an approval from insurance for a piece of medical equipment that you really needed yesterday, and then they would have to ship it. Otherwise, we’re at the mercy of Wallgreens and other big-box retailers who will charge over $100 for a toilet riser that you may only need for several weeks or months, and then what?

The Holistic Homestead is a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for better health and wellness in our community, and we saw a need to coordinate these clandestine lending closets so that someone looking for a specific piece of equipment will be able to get that equipment when they need it.

It’s not something you think about until you need it, but it’s nice to know that it’s there when you do.

Our coordination efforts are multi-faceted, and have successfully brought the issue of durable medical equipment into the community consciousness:

young woman smiling in wheelchair with mom and sister standing behind her.
I picked up this donated wheelchair in the morning, and got a call requesting a wheelchair that same afternoon! We met at the community center, and the young woman (and her family) was relieved to have what she needed.
  • Running an awareness campaign to get donations of medical equipment. In the past 3 years of coordinating the Peak to Peak Used Durable Medical Equipment Lending Program (UDME) in partnership with the Mountain Forum for Peace (a wonderful, local nonprofit who provides grant funding to keep the program going) we have received over $3,000 worth of donated equipment.
  • Reaching out to the community to let them know what we have! The most important message here is please, please, PLEASE don’t pay for medical equipment out of pocket – we are a bit overrun with walkers, crutches, and shower chairs, and chances are we have exactly the size and style that you need.
  • Working with local nonprofits to purchase needed equipment that are in high demand, or that we don’t have in our inventory. For our community, collapsible walkers with hand breaks and a seat are highly coveted, and we have an increasing demand for knee walkers. A generous grant from the Mountain Forum for Peace helped us to purchase a brand new knee walker in 2018!
  • Keeping UDME out of landfills – this means going to the transfer stations (since most mountain folks take out their own garbage and drive it to the local dump), putting up flyers, talking to the attendants, and making sure they have a number to call when someone wants to throw away a perfectly good wheelchair! Turns out, we discovered our local transfer station managers were already stashing medical equipment rather than letting it go to the landfill. Way to go!
  • Collaborating with our one and only, local, practicing doctor to ensure the safety and viability of all donated equipment. For example, in 2017 we received a donation of an in-home oxygen concentrator. It takes special equipment to ensure that machines like this are putting out the right amount of concentrated oxygen, especially when you’re looking at older models. Dr. Camarata was able to vet the concentrator and make minor adjustments, and now we have a very valuable piece of equipment (easily worth over $1500) that we can lend out for free in our community. Most often, it’s used by people whose elder parents are visiting our higher altitudes for a weekend holiday, and often coming from lower altitudes. It’s such a relief to know we have such a wonderful resource in this community!
  • Working with a local lawyer to create a “release of liability” waiver – something that just goes with the territory when you have a grassroots nonprofit taking on the liability of giving away used medical equipment. While most of our equipment is vetted by Dr. Camarata, accidents can happen (though I’m pleased to say in the 3+ years of successfully running this growing program we have had ZERO incidents), and we want our community members to be aware.
woman walking with a crutch by water
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

How can you start something like this for your community?

Step 1: Start hoarding! (ie, collecting) If you don’t have room in your basement or garage, ask a neighbor, a friend, or even the local community center. Think about stuff that you have used in the past years: walking boots for sprained ankles, crutches for a broken leg, ace bandages, shoulder slings, etc. and stuff that you’ve seen your friends and family use: toilet risers, walkers, canes, wheelchairs, etc.

Step 2: Let your community know what you are organizing! You don’t have to be a nonprofit to do this, you just need some time and closet space.

Step 3: Collaborate with local organizations, especially: senior centers, doctors offices, nonprofits and public health.

Step 4: Create an online shared inventory. This is especially useful if you have several closets in your community – someone may need a grab bar that you don’t have, but it’s possible that your neighbor or the local senior organization may have one or two to give away.

Step 5: Remind your community that this resource is here for them! Remind them to check the free closet before paying out of pocket for anything! and remind them to please return the equipment when they are done with it.

Read about how we almost lost our one and only rural doctor in “Taking back our health care!”

two women standing with a knee walker
Arwen Ek, director of the Homestead, delivering a brand new knee walker to the Nederland Community Center

You can do it!

Do you have a similar program in your community? Tell us about it!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: