Rental DME: Getting it back can be a struggle

Monday, April 30, 2007

A recently revived lawsuit over the return of a rental wheelchair speaks to the difficulty providers sometimes face when they try to retrieve equipment after a patient dies.
Several years ago, a patient's family sued a provider for allegedly making hundreds of harassing and threatening phone calls demanding the return of a rental wheelchair that had been used by the family's mother before she died. A circuit court dismissed the case, but a court of appeals ruled in mid-March that a jury could find that the defendant's conduct was "intentional and reckless" and could have resulted in "serious mental injury," reported The Associated Press.
The provider's lawyer denied the allegations to the news agency.
Providers say they know what it's like to have a hard time retrieving equipment.
"I could give you 10 examples," said Jim Leedom, owner of Home Health Depot in Lomita, Calif. "Here's one: About six months ago, one of our patients using a low air loss mattress died, and I called the spouse and said, 'I'm sorry for your loss; I need to pick up my mattress.' She said she threw it away."
Leedom had only collected $1,200 on the $4,000 mattress. When he told the spouse she'd need to pay the difference, she told him, "I don't have any money. Sue me."
Providers also tell stories of patients dying in nursing homes and then other patients inheriting their equipment. Sometimes there's no relative or friend to call--only a cranky landlord.
Usually, however, providers are able to retrieve their equipment within a handful of calls, they say. If they fail after that, most providers just write off the equipment.
"That happens maybe three times a year," said Ron Pinnella, who manages Diablo Medical Supply in Walnut Creek, Calif. "Unfortunately, it's a part of doing business."
To be as proactive as possible, providers like Doug Crana collect as many contacts as possible prior to delivery.
"When a patient dies it's all about the paperwork we did on setup," said Crana, president of Consolidated Medical in Newburgh, N.Y. "We get all the info--family, friends, referral sources. We get contacts from inside and outside the delivery address."