Goodwill turns HME trash into another man's treasure

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Thursday, February 28, 2002

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - When it comes to home medical equipment, one man's trash really is another man's treasure at Goodwill Industries of Chattanooga, Tenn.

Last year, the charity's HME program, Health Equipment Link Program Service (HELPS) provided 1,156 people with 1,683 pieces of free equipment. That included everything from hospital beds to walkers to wheelchairs (manual and power) to bedside commodes to Hoyer and stair lifts. That is, "anything we get in," said Gina Bever, a Goodwill spokeswoman.

"There are a lot of people who just don't have the resources to purchase medical equipment because it can be so expensive - even if they have insurance, the deductibles can be high," she said.

Goodwill began the HELPS program in May 2000, and during the balance of that year, provided equipment to 225 people. Early in 2001, Goodwill hired Kim Myers to oversee the program, and it really took off.

The program works with a number of HMEs, including Rob Summitt, president of the Summitt Group, a re/hab provider.

"We've donated scooters and old wheelchairs," Summitt said.
"Things that most people take for granted and leave sitting outside, we consider worth something."

Summitt encourages group homes, re/hab hospitals and other customers to donate their used equipment to Goodwill. Nursing homes, hospitals and individuals also donate equipment.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers helps the group repair power wheelchairs, and Summitt provides wheelchair batteries and parts at cost.

"You reap what you sow," he said, noting that many people who receive equipment from Goodwill sometimes end up as his customers once their insurance kicks in.

Because Goodwill gives the equipment away free, it's not liable if something goes wrong and doesn't have to spend money on liability insurance. The group doesn't like to delve into personal lives, so it does minimal screening to make sure clients truly need the equipment. Some people may be trying to get something for nothing, but, that's a small minority, the group believes.

"For some people, once they find out about the program, it's a God send," Bever said. "We receive thank-you notes every day from people we help who otherwise would have to go without." HME

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