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Recycling and Gifting Mobility Equipment to Seniors in Need

Healthcare professionals & community volunteers collect, clean, repair & sanitize gently used mobility equipment & gift it to those in need

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Who is your idea designed for and how does it enable older adults to live their best possible life by preventing falls?

A roadmap for community programs to help those in need (the majority of whom are seniors) regain & maintain independence & mobility while dramatically reducing falls & the cascade of problems & costs that result. A version of the program is now being developing by a group called Assist ME in Charlotte NC. The program is modeled after a successful program in Virginia that shows reductions in falls, ER visits & hospital admissions by over 85% & >90% increases in independence & ability to stay home

Every day, seniors lose their mobility to injury or illness. Over one in four seniors fall at least once each year, resulting in 7.5 million annual falls. 40% of those falls result in serious injuries requiring treatment in an emergency room. In 2016, ER visits for falls by seniors exceeded 3,000,000.

The goal of this project is to provide a roadmap for seniors in need to regain mobility by gifting them needed rehabilitation equipment. When their mobility is impaired, those without proper equipment fall more often. When they fall, they get injured and end up in emergency rooms and hospitals and are often forced to move to nursing homes and assisted living facilities where they can get higher levels of care. This means they cannot reenter their communities as productive, contributing citizens. They often have to depend on their families, who must stop working altogether or reduce the hours they work to care for their loved ones. And the communities in which they live incur significantly higher healthcare costs. Even with Medicare and Obamacare coverage, many seniors cannot obtain all of the equipment they need to regain their mobility and independence. By providing the right equipment for each individual, volunteer healthcare professionals and local citizens can help those in need regain their mobility and independence. 

A model for this concept has been successfully tested and implemented in Virginia. The model involves collecting gently used rehab mobility equipment donated by members of the community being served. Volunteers sanitize, repair and then gift mobility-related rehabilitation equipment (wheelchairs; walkers; power chairs and scooters; canes and crutches; and bath aids including shower chairs, tub transfer benches and commodes) to low-income adults who have no health insurance or other financial means of obtaining equipment they desperately need. The majority of gift recipients are seniors. This equipment is typically sitting unused in people’s garages, basements and attics.  While it was once in active use, it is no longer needed and the people who have it don’t know what to do with it.

Volunteers repair, clean and sanitize this equipment and get it back into condition to use again.  When they gift it to those in need, something special happens.  Falls and the cascade of fall-related injuries and costs are dramatically reduced (by over 85%) because people have the right equipment to support them when they need to move about. 

A group of concerned healthcare professionals and members of the general Charlotte community has now come together and committed to fix this problem for their citizens. To do this, they are using the successful, tested Virginia model.  They have formed a 501(c)(3) named Assist M.E.

The leader of the Charlotte group has recruited a core team of volunteers and began the process in Charlotte.  The Charlotte effort is collaboration in the strongest sense. Equipment for recycling and gifting is being donated by members of the general Charlotte community and from church equipment closet collections.  The major healthcare systems in Charlotte, including the Carolinas, Novant, Caromont and Premier healthcare systems, are contributing volunteers, help and advice to the chapter.

The program is in its infancy but has already been recognized by the Charlotte philanthropic community with a $5,000 SEED20 award. Assist M.E. can serve as a model for helping seniors in need in any community reduce falls and regain mobility and independence. The program is growing rapidly, serving over 100 people in need annually, but needs support and creative contribution of collaborative ideas to expand and reach all of those in need in the Charlotte community and to become a model for helping seniors in need across the country and the world. 

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We already know that this idea will meet the expectations of communities across the U.S. because the lightweight experiment and subsequent successful statewide expansion has been accomplished by the F.R.E.E. Foundation in Virginia. Fortunately, I was deeply involved in leading that effort and bring the learning and experience from the Virginia experiment to help guide the team of volunteers already in place for the Charlotte effort.

What skills, input, or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

1. In Virginia, collaboration with Goodwill Industries to make it easy for people to donate used equipment was critical. In Charlotte, this collaboration has not yet been finalized & it is slowing the process. SO input on possible paths/strategies for collaboration with healthcare organizations & professionals and other organizations that serve the community and in particular those in need would be welcome. 2. Donated operating space for storage/cleaning is a key. Need ideas for finding space.

How long has your idea existed?

  • Over 1 year

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

10 yrs+ non-profit leadership in fall prevention/mobility eqpt recycling and gifting; 25+ years healthcare management & technology development; currently CEO of h/c startup for tracking patient progress in outpatient settings; serial COO in tech businesses; IP attorney; former nuclear sub designer


Join the conversation:

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Last month, Assist M.E. gifted over 20 pieces of mobility rehab equipment to members of the Charlotte community in need, even though they do not have permanent space (working out of the founder's garage); do not have steam cleaning equipment (are cleaning equipment by hand); and have not yet gotten their brand and mission out to the full community (no advertising and one radio PSA). The need is massive and there is much to be done to make sure that every need for mobility equipment is met. MOBILITY CREATES INDEPENDENCE

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