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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

Photo of Brian Leitten
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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. http://bit.ly/2lPOub5

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. www.assistmenc.com

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

16 comments

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Photo of Brian
Team

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

Photo of Brian
Team

Outcomes drive success! 80%+ decreases in falls keep seniors out of ERs and hospitals and help keep them independent. As a bonus, AARP statistics show that hospitalization for a fall costs $30,000 on average. With over 700,000 fall-caused senior hospitalizations each year, the potential cost saving to our healthcare system equals over $1.5 Billion.

Photo of Brian
Team

RECYCLING EQUIPMENT CAN SAVE OVER $70 FOR EVERY DOLLAR INVESTED! We've run the numbers to determine the costs to our healthcare system for falls. When seniors fall, they end up in ERs, hospitals, doctor’s offices and extended care facilities. Family members often have to quit their jobs or cut back hours to care for relatives who have fallen. These costs far exceed the cost of a program designed to collect; refurbish; clean and sanitize; and gift gently used mobility equipment to those who cannot afford to buy it. For every dollar invested in such a program, we estimate that over $70 in actual healthcare costs are avoided. This can relieve our communities of significant burdens on their hospitals, doctors, health facilities and families, who now absorb/write off most of those costs.

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congratulations on being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Brian
Team

We really appreciated being selected as the first Featured Contribution for the Challenge. Thanks much.

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Brian!

Thank you for posting and what a great initiative!

I noticed that you mentioned that 'volunteers sanitize, repair and then gift mobility-related rehabilitation equipment'. Can the volunteers also adapt equipment to meet the individual needs of older adults i.e. create a bespoke fall prevention device?

I am going to copy a few people here to see if they have any answers to your questions:

'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.
Donated operating space for storage/cleaning is a key. Need ideas for finding space.'

Steve Mariah Burton Nelson Greg Holdsworth Bettina Fliegel 

Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson
Team

Brian and Kate: Love the idea! Thanks for letting us know about it.

Since I was tagged, I'll just chime in that volunteers should probably not customize equipment since it would potentially create a legal nightmare for them or the group if the equipment malfunctioned and someone got hurt. Not my expertise; just my two cents.

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Good point, Mariah! I like it when the OpenIDEO community reminds me of stuff like this, it keeps me grounded. I wonder what checks the equipment has to go through before it goes out 'on the road'.

Photo of Brian Leitten
Team

It is one of my areas of expertise. All equipment is gifted, not loaned or sold, to limit liability issues. Over a decade of experience has shown that this is not an issue. The ability to regain lost mobility and independence appears to outweigh most every other issue.

Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson
Team

Glad to hear it. Thanks, Brian!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi all. Thanks for tagging me here Kate.

Brian - This is a great initiative! There is so much waste that can be used for good!
Thinking about ways to collect these items and store them….
One model you might look at for inspiration is the NY Cares Coat Drive. In this case the items donated are gently used coats which would be easier to collect and store but still there may be some learnings as it is a large and successful campaign. Public and private sites are offered as drop off sites. Municipal sites for drop off have included all local Police Stations and some local public libraries.
Here is their report from 2015. https://www.newyorkcares.org/sites/default/files/publication/NYC_CoatDriveReport2015_B.pdf

In terms of connecting to patients in need reaching out to local Federally Qualified Community Health Centers might help. These centers are often in under resourced communities and provide care to adults who are not insured, in addition to those that are. They might also be connected to local social service agencies. Maybe they will have ideas around local storage for donated equipment? There is a North Carolina Community Health Centers Association. http://www.ncchca.org

Best of luck scaling this project!

Photo of Brian Leitten
Team

Bettina - Thanks. Great ideas I will be following up n this week.

Brian

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Great!

Photo of Brian
Team

All equipment is checked by volunteers trained by certified physical, occupation al and speech therapists and when equipment needs to be 'fitted' to a specific individual, it is done by someone who has been trained to do the fitting. Equipment is checked in the cleaning/repair process and on gifting.

Photo of Brian Leitten
Team

Kate - Thanks for the comment and question. Almost all equipment is 'tuned' to the individual and fitted by therapists and healthcare professionals. Specialty wheelchairs are usually bespoke as they have to accommodate the particular needs of the user (height; weight; abilities). But so far no real one-of-a-kind custom devices invented to solve a specific need.

Photo of Rodolfo Troncoso
Team

great idea in some many levels. Its a great to see how recycling impacts people positively immediately. Not to mention how humane an initiative this is