Centralized site also streamlines donation process
After Alex Hall fractured his pelvis and wrist in a nasty fall from scaffolding, the avid skier and climber had restricted mobility and couldn’t bend over. So, having a bench with handles so he could get in and out of the shower and a grabber tool to pick up items from the floor made a huge difference in his recovery.
Receiving and donating
Methow Valley Medical Equipment has no official hours. The equipment coordinator will arrange a time for someone to pick up necessary equipment, to return something they no longer need, or to make a donation. Call or text (509) 557-0481 to make an appointment or for more information.
Hall, now back at work as a builder, borrowed the equipment for free from Methow Valley Medical Equipment, a new program that lends equipment like walkers, hospital beds and crutches to people in the valley. All the equipment has been donated by community members. Hall even got a wheelchair for an outing in the mountains.
Being able to borrow medical equipment isn’t entirely new for the valley, but it’s never been organized, meaning that equipment didn’t always make it to the people who really needed it.
For years, people have donated equipment they no longer needed — crutches, walkers, raised toilet seats, even hospital beds — to organizations like The Cove; the Methow Valley Senior Center; and Jamie’s Place, the adult family home in Winthrop.
But none of those organizations had an adequate place to keep the equipment. “It wasn’t organized — stuff would just be stored outside,” said Jeff Kingsbury, an emergency medical technician at Aero Methow Rescue Service and one of the organizers of the new service. Nobody kept records of the equipment they had nor whether things were in working order.
The system was decentralized and no one was overseeing it, said Justin Porter, deputy director Aero Methow Rescue Service, where he’s also a paramedic.
Porter is also a nurse with the Okanogan Palliative Care Initiative. Early this year, the initiative recognized the need for an orderly system with proper storage. They put out a call for a place to house the equipment and found the perfect arrangement — a roomy, weatherproof barn just outside of Twisp.
The equipment barn doesn’t have official hours, but it does have a dedicated phone number so people can call or text for information and an appointment. And it has Dani Esmiol, who tracks the donations and schedules a time for people to pick up what they need — or drop off what they don’t.
The shed has various styles of walkers (no wheels, two wheels, or four wheels), crutches and canes, wheelchairs, bath chairs and benches, and even a device that helps lift someone safely. “These are things people need a lot,” said Esmiol, who helps people choose an appropriate device.
Equipment under snow
Before they had the barn, a large item like a hospital bed took up all the room in the small shed behind Jamie’s Place. People would rummage through the shed to find what they needed and then cram everything back inside, Porter said.
At the senior center, the equipment was outdoors under an eave. In the winter, people had to shovel snow to find what they needed, Raleigh Bowden, a physician with the palliative care initiative who served as their director until recently.
And because the system functioned largely through word of mouth, many people — including medical providers — didn’t even know the equipment was available.
Having this equipment makes an enormous difference in people’s recovery, safety, and overall health and quality of life. The service partially fills a critical gap in our health care system, Porter said. It’s not uncommon for people with serious illness to fall because they don’t have the necessary supportive devices. “Without a service like this, people would be without durable medical equipment when they’re most vulnerable,” he said.
And even though people typically need medical equipment immediately, there’s often a significant delay when trying to get approval from insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, Kingsbury said.
Some clients use equipment long-term for a chronic condition, but others need a walker or wheelchair only while they’re recovering from surgery or an injury. Then they return it to the equipment barn.
Methow Valley Medical Equipment is tracking the equipment use to be sure the community is well served.
When people sign out a piece of equipment, they don’t need to provide a name, but the organizers want to know where they live and their age to better understand the needs, Kingsbury said.
The Palliative Care Initiative provided start-up money to the medical equipment program through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They recently obtained a federal grant that can also be used for the medical equipment program, including compensating Esmiol and the other partners for their time, Bowden said.
The initiative and Jamie’s Place also recently obtained a grant to purchase two hospital beds for Methow Valley Medical Equipment.
People can borrow something for as long as necessary. There’s no fee, but the service welcomes donations so they can invest in the facility. Ultimately they hope donations will cover costs, Bowden said.
The Okanogan Palliative Care Initiative is a countywide initiative to relieve suffering and improve the quality of life of people with serious illness and complex medical problems.