DENVER — Michele Lujan needed a wheelchair for her 52-year-old husband who had been hospitalized with covid-19. But she had lost her job, and money was tight. Insurance wouldn’t cover the cost, and she didn’t see the use in buying something to meet a temporary need. So she turned to a loan closet not far from her home in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch.
At South Metro Medical Equipment Loan Closet, crutches hung from the walls, knee scooters lined the floor, and shower seats and toilet risers overflowed from the shelves. She found a wheelchair she could borrow for free.
“I didn’t realize all the other medical items they have,” Lujan said.
Medical equipment reuse programs like these collect, clean, and lend devices — often at no cost to the borrower. They vary in size from small outposts at community churches to large statewide programs like the Foundation for Rehabilitation Equipment and Endowment, or FREE, which provided nearly 5,000 devices to thousands of low-income adults and seniors in Virginia last year.
Such programs save low-income and uninsured patients money, and by refurbishing used medical equipment, they keep it out of landfills. During the pandemic, the programs have also helped soften the impact of supply chain-related shortages and are helping meet increased demand as delayed elective surgeries resume.
“Once hospitals started elective surgeries again, there was …