My Last Power Chair?

My graying power chair was purchased when I was working part time here by vocational rehabilitation in 2000. Medicaid began replacing the batteries a few years ago and the custom seat cushions. Medicaid does not pay for repairs under $100 so my sister has been. A year and a half ago I found a dead spot in the joystick/controller which caused it to hesitate and coast. I was afraid that the joystick would fail to stop the power chair and cause an accident. The Medicaid vendor was called but dropped by when I was out. A few weeks later while exiting my van, my power chair failed to stop. When it hit the end of the lift, I was thrown out and landed on the parking lot three feet below. Luckily, I was not hurt badly, but the emergency squad was called to help me up.

After that incident my chair would not run and the left armrest would not elevate. I had to be pushed the rest of that shortened, shaken up day. After returning to the facility I called the vendor who came the next day and repaired a loose battery connection. But they felt the joystick/controller was operating. They said since Medicaid no longer reimbursed mileage for my vendor’s trips to the nursing home, I would need to go to them for repairs … even in an emergency.

During a February outing my chair died. The joystick/controller switch would not stay in the “on” position. I called the vendor but there was nothing they could do that day. So I was pushed in “free wheel mode” the rest of another shortened day. The next day the vendor loaned me a joystick/controller that my driver picked up and installed to give my chair power. I also was using a vendor-loaned battery charger while waiting for Medicaid to purchase one for me.

The vendor sent Medicaid bids for my power chair’s repairs. A rebuilt controller/joystick would be over $2000, and a new battery charger was $400-$500. I wondered if Medicaid would turn down those claims because of my power chair’s age. Then Medicaid requested a bid for a new power chair. Not long after Medicaid called me to say there was a problem. I suggested a conference call with myself, Medicaid, and the vendor. Then I heard nothing for quite a while. The vendor told me that Medicaid had authorized a seat cushion for my power chair. They assumed it was for my new one. I do not know if the vendor and Medicaid ever had a discussion about the problems with my case. Months went by I felt like I was stuck in the middle of a maze.

I was grateful that my chair was running, but I knew I needed a new one. I wrote letters to my state representative, state senator, governor, my congressman, and both US senators. Most of them sent me letters saying they were referring me to Medicaid. I was determined that I would get a new chair if I had to write a letter to the editor of every local newspaper around here.

Even after all the letters nothing moved very quickly. I received a notice that repairs to my power chair were denied. By September I decided to send e-mails to Medicaid and to the vendor. I had a feeling that there was a problem. In my e-mails I called it a glitch in Medicaid’s system. I thought if I got someone’s attention I would get some action. Medicaid requested that the vendor return any purchase orders that they had because they were for my old chair. I had the vendor e-mail me the request for the new power chair which I forwarded on to Medicaid. Not too long after my multiple e-mails the new power chair purchase was approved.

I thought that I would receive the chair rather quickly. But the vendor got several Medicaid purchase requests at the same time. After a two-month wait my chair arrived Friday. I was very pleased to get it because my old one was dilapidated.

My new chair turns on a dime. The seat is a comfortable 18 1/2 inches from the floor. It needed a few adjustments to fit on my wheelchair lift. The power chair has an SD card with its programming on it. It has four computerized speeds that a caregiver can change on a touchpad. I have used a power chair for 22 years and this chair has steel footrests that may not bend like all of the others. It cost $9,500 and Medicaid will pay 75%.

I went Christmas shopping in my new power chair. Even in snow the chair moves well but it does back a little before turning corners which can make me feel seasick. My one concession to the new chair is where I sit at the computer. The new chair is too wide in front to fit under the bedside table where my keyboard is. So I now sit at a crazy angle until I find another solution.

The vendor did tell me that Ohio Medicaid will no longer purchase power chairs for residents in long-term care facilities. I plan to write and testify on the power chair issue. I feel that if nursing home residents are able to use a power chair that it greatly enhances their independence. I enjoy the freedom when I am in mine. I will be glad to share that information with Ohio’s legislators.

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