Lend a crutch: Finding new life for old medical equipment

Recovering from hip surgery, a patient occupies a bed in a Parkland Hospital room. He is healthy enough to go home but doesn’t have access to the expensive special equipment — a wheelchair and a tub transfer bench — he needs to function on his own. So he remains hospitalized, at a cost of $2,000 per day, a bill footed in large part by Dallas taxpayers.

Another, diagnosed with inoperable stage-4 breast cancer, wants nothing more than to spend her last days at home with those who love her. But unless she can install a hospital bed in her room at home, her physician cannot release her.

As a doctor and chief of utilization management at Parkland, Dallas County’s public hospital, Stan Pomarantz saw cases like this daily. He recalls one patient who underwent an amputation and needed a mobility device in order to be medically cleared.

“He wound up laying there for a week, taking up a bed in an overcrowded hospital, when he could have gone home if we could get him this item he needed.”

In that situation, the patient’s caseworker came to Pomarantz at a loss. He racked his brain for answers as he pulled into his driveway that night.

“I got home, bone-tired after this long day, I pull into the garage and there’s a wheelchair. It had been my mother’s. I’d forgotten it was there,” he says.

It was the solution he’d been seeking.

He approached the hospital board of directors with the idea of refurbishing discarded Durable Medical Equipment, what’s called DME in the business, for hospitals and patients in need.

“We went around the [boardroom] table — turned out every hospital executive sitting there said they had some piece of medical equipment, from wheelchairs to crutches, at home gathering dust.”

That was the genesis of DME Exchange of Dallas. Pomarantz says some 25,000 to 50,000 people a year in Dallas suffer because they cannot afford DME.

DME Exchange is the only organization in Texas responding in a significant way to this problem.

“There are informal collections and distributions of equipment at local nonprofits and churches, but the Department of State Health Services has safety and cleanliness requirements, and no other [nearby] organization meets those,” he says.

The operation started out small, functioning three days a week out of an East Dallas warehouse. Pomarantz, a few volunteers, including longtime Lake Highlands resident Jim Waldorf, and a staffer named Rigo Rodriguez, who is licensed to repair and inspect DME, managed everything at first.

“We went around the [boardroom] table — turned out every hospital executive sitting there said they had some piece of medical equipment, from wheelchairs to crutches, at home gathering dust.”

To deliver equipment, they used a handicap-equipped van that belonged to Waldorf’s wheelchair-bound late father (it remains the organization’s only vehicle).

Certain equipment, such as hospital beds, must be delivered and set up by qualified technicians, thus the van is essential.

“When I read about what DME Exchange of Dallas was doing, I had to get involved. It was personal,” says Waldorf, a staunch DME Exchange advocate who recently retired from its board.

Due in part to his own beloved father’s impaired mobility, and because he cared for his terminally ill spouse, Miriam, before her recent death, Waldorf understands how essential DME is to quality of life.

“If the person has the right equipment, it amounts to a level of human dignity,” he explains. “And it is a great relief for the caregiver.”

A group of faith-based outreaches called Dallas Area Interfaith (Temple Emanu-El, St. Rita Catholic Church and Temple Shalom), after researching and uncovering Dallas’ drastic need for DME, funneled resources toward DME Exchange Dallas, which opened as a nonprofit in 2012.

The financial assistance provided by Dallas Area Interfaith helped launch the program, the founders say.

Thanks to DAI and other early supporters, DME Exchange was able to hire an experienced executive director, Lake Highlands resident Betty Hersey, who is the backbone of the operation today.

Hersey, who is trim and energetic, despite exhibiting a limp and using a cane, leads a brisk warehouse tour. She broke a bone last summer while playing with her grandchildren.

“I guess I am a walking advertisement for DME,” she quips.

She takes several phone calls in between showing various rooms of the 2,400 square-foot DME Exchange facility.

“Recycling equipment reduces waste from discarded items that would go into landfills, and it saves resources used to manufacture new equipment.”

There is the back area, a concrete garage where new equipment comes in. It includes a wall of tools that specialists use to repair, adjust and inspect donations. Next is the receiving room, where gloved volunteers armed with Microban Antimicrobial sanitizer disinfect equipment. Every piece of gear, every stage of refurbishment and each transaction is meticulously recorded in a database, partly in preparation for a twice-yearly state inspection. There are two clean rooms filled with hundreds of fully refurbished and sanitized items including walkers, crutches, canes and chairs, ready to be dispersed to clients who meet the criteria.

That is, they must show a doctor’s prescription, poverty at 200 percent below the national level, and a gap in insurance coverage or no insurance, Hersey says.

Like Waldorf, Hersey has been the caregiver for a loved one with special needs. Her adult daughter, Jenny, a 1998 graduate of Lake Highlands High School, has Down Syndrome. Lately Jenny has been refusing to speak, Hersey says, a frustrating development. But Jenny loves dining out, so Hersey forces Jenny to order the food she wants when they go to a restaurant. Jenny, who really wants to eat, reluctantly communicates.

It’s this sort of anecdote that offers insight into Hersey’s tough, pragmatic style of supportiveness and kindness.

She is straightforward about the DME’s needs: “We need more space, at least 5,000 square feet. Right now we are renting a storage unit across the street. If we had more space we could help more people,” she says. “We need more volunteers — people who like to fix things, who are good with their hands, they can help in the warehouse, and people who can clean the equipment.”

They need a new vehicle, too. Waldorf’s van is in the shop. Repairs will take a day or two. Until it’s done, they cannot deliver or set up equipment.

They need hospital mattresses, wheelchairs and other medical equipment. And money, she says. They really need money.

DME Exchange makes a positive environmental impact, too, she points out.

“Recycling equipment reduces waste from discarded items that would go into landfills, and it saves resources used to manufacture new equipment.”

DME Exchange has been recognized by WFAA TV station’s Project Green, which financially rewards environmentally responsible nonprofits.

“We are small, but we are doing big work,” Hersey says, noting that they have served 1,247 individuals and provided 1,868 pieces of durable medical equipment to patients since opening three years ago.

“The hospital and social workers and the people we help are so grateful for what we do for them,” Hersey says.

Before rushing off to a DME Exchange fundraising event, she shares a letter from a recent customer:

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” it reads. “The donation of medical equipment to me has made my life and my transition from the hospital an amazing journey. I did not know how I could manage – but y’all made it possible. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!”

How to Help:

Donate tax-deductible, durable medical equipment including wheelchairs,
walkers, canes, bedside equipment and crutches
Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. to
12015 Shiloh, Suite 130 (near Northwest Highway).

For pickups of larger items such as mattresses or scooters,
schedule pickup by calling 214.997.3639.

Donate cash through dfwdmeexchange.org or mail a check to
DME Exchange of Dallas at
P.O. Box 25575, Dallas, TX, 75225-5575.

Volunteer. Schedule volunteer training by calling 214.997.3639.


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