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My Last Power Chair?

December 8, 2008
by Kathleen Mears
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My graying power chair was purchased when I was working part time here by vocational rehabilitation in 2000. Medicaid began replacing the batteries a few years ago and the custom seat cushions. Medicaid does not pay for repairs under $100 so my sister has been. A year and a half ago I found a dead spot in the joystick/controller which caused it to hesitate and coast. I was afraid that the joystick would fail to stop the power chair and cause an accident. The Medicaid vendor was called but dropped by when I was out. A few weeks later while exiting my van, my power chair failed to stop. When it hit the end of the lift, I was thrown out and landed on the parking lot three feet below. Luckily, I was not hurt badly, but the emergency squad was called to help me up.

After that incident my chair would not run and the left armrest would not elevate. I had to be pushed the rest of that shortened, shaken up day. After returning to the facility I called the vendor who came the next day and repaired a loose battery connection. But they felt the joystick/controller was operating. They said since Medicaid no longer reimbursed mileage for my vendor's trips to the nursing home, I would need to go to them for repairs ... even in an emergency.

During a February outing my chair died. The joystick/controller switch would not stay in the "on" position. I called the vendor but there was nothing they could do that day. So I was pushed in "free wheel mode" the rest of another shortened day. The next day the vendor loaned me a joystick/controller that my driver picked up and installed to give my chair power. I also was using a vendor-loaned battery charger while waiting for Medicaid to purchase one for me.

The vendor sent Medicaid bids for my power chair's repairs. A rebuilt controller/joystick would be over $2000, and a new battery charger was $400-$500. I wondered if Medicaid would turn down those claims because of my power chair's age. Then Medicaid requested a bid for a new power chair. Not long after Medicaid called me to say there was a problem. I suggested a conference call with myself, Medicaid, and the vendor. Then I heard nothing for quite a while. The vendor told me that Medicaid had authorized a seat cushion for my power chair. They assumed it was for my new one. I do not know if the vendor and Medicaid ever had a discussion about the problems with my case. Months went by I felt like I was stuck in the middle of a maze.

I was grateful that my chair was running, but I knew I needed a new one. I wrote letters to my state representative, state senator, governor, my congressman, and both US senators. Most of them sent me letters saying they were referring me to Medicaid. I was determined that I would get a new chair if I had to write a letter to the editor of every local newspaper around here.

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Kathy,

I'm a little concerned about the title you chose for this blog entry. Are you implying the chair might outlive you? I doubt that, considering how consumer items are so poorly made these days. I give it a 10-year lifespan ... Regardless, I am happy your chair is working out for you, despite those minor adjustments at the keyboard.

No I'm not concerned that the chair will outlive me. But the vendor did tell me that Medicaid will no longer be purchasing power chairs for those of us in long-term care. That's what I meant about it being my last power wheelchair. It may be unless I can convince Ohio legislators that Medicaid should change their minds..

I imagine that power chairs have been purchased for long-term care folks and they have not been used as they should. But I feel that for some of us it greatly enhances our independence and our ability to get around in our environment.

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Kathleen Mears

www.ltlmagazine.com/blog/kathleen-mears

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...