By Heather Millar
A couple days ago, I went over to deliver food to our neighbor who has metastatic lung cancer. I love how much he still enjoys food and how feisty he remains. As I stood in his bedroom, cluttered with paintings and books and antiques, he pointed out the new hospital bed that his HMO had sent over.
“See that horrible thing?” he joked. “That’s my ‘check-out’ bed. Isn’t it awful? I tried to use it, but it’s terrible. We even brought up a camp bed mattress from the basement to see if we could make it more comfortable. But it’s STILL awful!”
As I walked back across the street, I thought about that bed. I am pretty sure that it will sit in the corner of his bedroom, unused, until the end. And then what? What will happen to the bed? Will it go back to the HMO? Will it end up in a landfill? Will it go down to the basement with the forlorn camp bed?
This is no trivial matter. I’ve written before about ways that health care providers are trying to recycle medical supplies, but what about all the equipment that ends up in our homes?
I remember when my father died of cancer nearly 2 decades ago, we suddenly had a boat load of medical equipment for which we no longer had a use: wheelchairs, walkers, shower benches, hospital tables. We gave some of it away, but honestly, we just wanted to get it out of the house so that my mother wouldn’t be upset by it. I’m sure we weren’t very organized about it.
Today, as my ill and demented mother lies in her bed receiving hospice care, we again have some medical orphans around the house. Some of them were really expensive: a $6,000 motorized wheelchair that she was only able to use for about a week, and a “Hoyer lift,” a giant piece of equipment that can be used to transfer an invalid patient from bed to wheelchair and back, which again, she’s no longer well enough to use.
I’m guessing that we have $10,000 to $20,000 worth of medical equipment around the house, and no idea what to do with it. Personally, I think we should have a big warehouse in each town, like a library, where patients can borrow home medical equipment and then return it when it’s no longer needed.
We haven’t gotten that organized as a society, but a bit of research reveals that patients now have many options for acquiring home medical equipment at a discount or for free, and also options for disposing of it.
- For instance, one Wisconsin website lists all kinds of devices by zip code, for sale throughout the country.
- Medical Equipment Forward, which calls itself a “Craigslist” for medical equipment, lists devices for sale by region or city.
- Goodwill Industries and Easter Seals, the national charities, accept donations of used medical equipment, even beds, then refurbish them and sell them at big discounts. There doesn’t seem to be a national directory. But if you Google “used home medical equipment,” Goodwill or Easter Seals, and the name of your town or region, you will likely pull up the information you need.
- In addition to Goodwill and Easter Seals, there seem to be hundreds of local non-profits dedicated to recycling and redistributing used medical equipment. Again, just Google your location and “used medical equipment” or “recycled medical equipment.” You can also find a partial, state-by-state listing here.
Have you found other resources for recycling and reusing medical equipment? Let us know here!