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When power or manual chairs break

May 29, 2012
by Kathleen Mears
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In Ohio Medicaid nursing home residents do not seem to have a payor for their power chair battery replacement or repair. For several years either my sister or I have paid for necessary repairs and battery replacement. The administrator here says the facility is responsible only for repairs to manual wheelchairs.

My power chair was purchased by Medicaid in 2008. I had absolutely no input into what was bought. Though this chair turns on a dime, it is not as well built as I think it should be. Many quadriplegics who subscribe to an online list feel the same way. There are also many videos on YouTube of chairs similar to mine traveling in a very unsafe way due to functioning quirks.

Before I had my chair for a year its special, smaller joystick began to lose its function. Quadriplegics have written lengthy accounts about replacing their power chair’s controllers. New controllers are $2000-$3000 and possibly more. Used ones would be less but vendors know Medicaid recipients do not have the funds to purchase them.

In the past a vendor lent me a controller until Medicaid bought my new chair. Now, I live in a different area and do not have such a vendor connection. Here it is more difficult to find a vendor because of the payor situation. It is also difficult to find a vendor close enough to travel to for necessary repairs. Facility calls to replace my batteries are virtually impossible because of a lockdown pin on the battery box. Though it locks my chair to my van’s floor, it makes battery replacement difficult. 

Since I live in a facility, I am unfamiliar with power chair brands. But to me all power chair brands in showrooms look similar and none seem to have the sturdy leg rests and armrests that I feel are necessary. 

Facility residents who use manual chairs frequently have broken foot rests and repairing them takes a long time. Some residents ask for nonslip cushions for their chairs. Knowing how long I sit each day, I know their seating must be uncomfortable.  

As we know, facilities remove foot rests to encourage residents to propel their manual chairs with their feet, thereby keeping up their leg strength. Then, foot rests are frequently switched from chair to chair and either gets lost or broken.

I think it would benefit facilities to develop a relationship with a machine shop.  Back in the 50s and 60s my dad, a tool and die maker, fixed his customer’s manual chairs for free. 

Though I do not think facilities could get free service today, it may be possible to find a retired or semi-retired machinist or tool and die maker who could fix manual chairs for facilities at a reasonable price. Some might relish doing so since they would be providing a necessary service to the community. 

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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...