- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 1, 2006

RICHMOND — Virginia is creating a central network for recycled wheelchairs, canes and walkers that are often trashed when no longer needed, costing the state millions of dollars.

State health officials will use an online database to link charity groups recycling so-called assistive technology, which will help to get equipment such as expensive power scooters to people who cannot afford new ones.

The scooters and other equipment are frequently bought with taxpayer money through government programs, said Ken Knorr, the director of the Virginia Assistive Technology System who expects the recycling effort to be in place within three years.

In fiscal 2006, Virginia Medicaid covered about $55.2 million in durable medical equipment needs.

In the Richmond area alone, Goodwill of Central Virginia distributed more than $360,000 in discarded assisted-technology equipment last year.

The equipment included manual wheelchairs and power scooters that can cost from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000. Refurbished equipment goes mostly to the uninsured and underinsured, Mr. Knorr said.

He also said that dozens of churches, charities and other nonprofits already gather, refurbish and distribute used items, but that they often operate in a vacuum.

A group in Staunton, for example, might be unsure where to refer someone seeking a modified toy or special keyboard, not realizing another recycling group has the item miles away in Fairfax, Mr. Knorr said.

“Different parts of the state are just not aware that there are some well-established programs in other parts of the state,” he said.

Another problem is that wheelchairs and crutches end up in churches, nursing homes and funeral homes. Then, when the facilities run out of storage space, the devices are dumped, Mr. Knorr said.

Robin Ramsey, executive director of the Foundation for Rehabilitation Equipment and Endowment in Roanoke, welcomes the state involvement and thinks she soon will be able to link larger groups such as hers with smaller ones.

“There are many church congregations who have an equipment closet, and we want to be able to be a resource to them,” she said. “A database would allow us to connect at any second.”

In 2004, changes to the Assistive Technology Act required that states take a closer look at recycling. A national hub for state recycling programs will open by next spring, said Jeremy Buzzell, program specialist for the Rehabilitation Services Administration.

The center will coordinate state recycling programs, establish a set of best practices and offer technical advice to startup groups, he said. Officials also are offering 10 grants of up to $600,000 each to enhance and establish assistive-technology recycling programs.


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