Medical ministry shares crutches, wheelchairs and more
Feb. 21, 2007
A UMNS Report By James Melchiorre*
CONNELLSVILLE, Pa. (UMNS)-When a doctor told Pat Galasso she had two bad knees that would require surgery, she knew she would need a lot of support-literally.
"My husband's had nine surgeries and he walks with a crutch. He couldn't have been any help to me," said Galasso, 77. "I really needed a walker."
Fortunately, Galasso knew exactly where to get one on loan. At a former high school classroom in the Community Center in downtown Connellsville, the United Methodist Men's Hospital Equipment Loan Service keeps an inventory of wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, canes, portable commodes and even mattresses for people who need medical equipment.
So instead of renting a wheelchair for $136 a month, a person can take out a loan at no charge. The equipment is available for whoever needs it, as long as they need it.
"The primary areas where we see the need is for people without insurance coverage or people who do not meet the income or age requirements for the government programs," said Wes Boots, a retired school teacher who has volunteered with the ministry since 1966.
The walker-so critical to Galasso's rehabilitation-was one of more than 640 items out on loan at the close of 2006.
"If we have it, and you need it, we give it to you," said Karl McFadden, who keeps track of inventory by writing down information in a large binder.
Most equipment is donated. Every item is repaired, if necessary, then cleaned and sanitized by volunteers from 11 United Methodist congregations in the area.
The ministry's only expenses are the cost of cleaning supplies, steel wool, an occasional replacement part and, of course, rental of the storage space, which has risen from $25 a month when the program began in the late 1950s to $260 a month today.
The medical equipment ministry began in an era when there was no universal, government-funded health insurance for the elderly and the poor. But even in the age of Medicare, the service is needed, organizers say. In the United States, 15 percent of the population, an estimated 46 million people, had no health insurance in 2005.
In the blue-collar, mountain towns stretching from the outskirts of Pittsburgh to the West Virginia border, the crisis is even more severe.
"There are a number of persons who, because of job loss, no longer have hospitalization (insurance), and this provides an opportunity to get equipment on a loan basis, at no cost," said the Rev. Frank Sherman, a district superintendent in the Western Pennsylvania Conference.
The ability to obtain equipment quickly is especially important when time is most precious due to a medical condition.
"The opportunity to have a hospital bed, particularly in a hospice situation-a terminal illness where the person can come home from a nursing home to their home to interact with their families in their final days-is one that's very important to people, " Boots said.
Boots said the loan service is so well-supplied and staffed these days that the ministry wants to share equipment, and expertise, with others interested in starting a similar service. It's all part of being good stewards of our resources, they say.
"This is part of the Gospel. This is the living out of our faith," Boots said.
Galasso agrees. Five days before Christmas, as she continued to recuperate from knee surgery, she returned to the Community Center to exchange her walker for a cane.
"It was just a godsend," Galasso said.
*Melchiorre is a freelance producer based in New York City.
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