Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Long Island residents lose wheelchair repair services

From Newsday:

Linda Lemmerman waited five months -- her son Brandon's wheelchair held together with ACE bandages and a bungee cord -- before she found out that the company she had hired to fix his wheelchair was getting out of the business.

Lemmerman, a Ridge resident whose 17-year-old son has cerebral palsy, is among dozens of Long Islanders whose life has been disrupted by a Bethpage firm's decision to stop assembling, selling and repairing custom wheelchairs.

That company, Home Care Supply, is shutting down that part of its operation, said a spokeswoman for the company's parent firm, Praxair.

That leaves disabled people and their families with the prospect of waiting another several months to get new, customized wheelchairs ordered from other companies. That process includes a series of meetings with doctors and approvals from insurance companies.

Two legislators from Long Island have raised questions about whether the state needs stricter rules on the time it takes insurers and companies to provide the customized wheelchairs, which are the only way many handicapped people can move independently.

"These are his legs," Lemmerman said of her son's dependence on his wheelchair.

Home Care Supply, which was bought by Praxair in 2004, is getting out of customized wheelchairs because of declining reimbursements from governments even as the cost of building the chairs is rising, said Susan Szita-Gore, the Praxair

The company stopped taking orders for new chairs in April and will be out of that business by Oct. 1, but will continue repairing wheelchairs that are under warranty, she said.

Szita-Gore said Home Care Supply had contacted customers by phone to tell them of the decision to stop selling and fixing chairs. The company is also working with families to find other firms that sell customized wheelchairs, she said. She said she could not provide the number of customers who are affected.

But Lemmerman and several other parents of children at the Henry Viscardi School for physically disabled students in Albertson, said they were never notified.