Invacare recall: Just right or too soft?

Monday, September 30, 2002

YARMOUTH, Maine - Invacare, having recently settled a lawsuit related to burn injuries from a faulty power wheelchair and becoming the target of a scathing article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer regarding its recall efforts, is now facing a burning question: Did it do enough?

According to many HMEs, Elyria, Ohio-based Invacare has been quite responsive. In fact, maybe too aggressive at times.

"They are almost a pain in the butt about the recall process," said Doug Westerdahl, president of Monroe Wheelchair, Rochester, N.Y., half jokingly. "I get a lot of phone calls from them about this recall and others that they may have, like a recall for a bed. I hear about the initial recall, I get follow-ups, I get duplicate letters from them. In my opinion, they are doing all that they possibly can."

"They shipped us the list of every power-driven wheelchair we have ever sold," reported Roger Runkles a rehab provider with Roberts Home Medical, Germantown, Pa. "We have contacted folks and made the upgrades. I haven't had anyone who's come to us who has had a fire based on this situation."

While Roberts has repaired an estimated 70 or 80 percent of the affected wheelchairs they have sold, Runkles noted that reaching all the wheelchair owners is a nearly impossible task because people move and provide no change of address. Also, as Westerdahl reported, a "gray market" exists in which people sell their used wheelchairs privately.

At least one person who thinks Invacare could have done more is Jeff Day, CEO of Abilene, Texas-based Freedom Fighters of Texas. "There are a lot of customers who have absolutely no idea of the problems. Nobody has contacted them," he said, acknowledging that he wouldn't get many calls from Invacare because he rarely sells their wheelchairs. "And it seems that some of the dealers don't want to deal with the repairs at all."

Day feels that more aggressive notification of the recall should have been pursued through media channels, such as public service announcements. Still, he understands that reaching the end users directly is difficult at best.

"The blame is not truly just on Invacare but on everybody involved," Day said. "It's just a really difficult situation. Manufacturers may need to consider requiring serial numbers from repair shops to order parts, so that they can track these products and immediately flag those that are affected by a recall." HME