Is Durable Medical Equipment Available At Local Specialty Stores?

No, not any longer, to my knowledge.  At the end of one of our recent community informational sessions on NMC’s Master Facility Plan, a community member inquired about local access to medical equipment (DME).  That person was concerned about the closing of the specialized stores that provided access to DME.  I told the attendees I would follow up with key members of our staff and share an update in this column.  I appreciate the input from Karen Staniels, the Director of NMC’s Ortho Rehab Service Line, JoAnn Manahan, the Nurse Manager of NMC’s Emergency Department; and Kim Goss, the Nurse Manager of Northwestern Urgent Care.

The standard definition of DME is “any equipment that provides therapeutic benefits to a patient in need because of certain medical conditions and/or illnesses.”  DME typically consists of items which “are primarily and customarily used to serve a medical purpose; are not useful to a person in the absence of illness or injury; are ordered or prescribed by a physician; are reusable; can stand repeated use; and are appropriate for use in the home.”  Within that definition are important resources such as: braces, crutches, canes, walkers, and wheel chairs; blood sugar monitors; oxygen equipment, CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) devices, and nebulizers; patient lifts, traction equipment, and hospital beds, and more.

While there are no longer specialized stores providing broad access to these resources in Franklin County, some of items of this nature are available in local stores, pharmacies, or provider offices, often through the SurgiCare vendor.  Medicare does enable NMC to supply some DME to certain Medicare patients, but it is limited (for more information, visit: https://www.medicare.gov/what-medicare-covers/part-b/durable-medical-equipment.html). NMC’s Emergency Department  and Northwestern Urgent Care do carry certain supplies for their patients.  In addition, the American Legion and local senior organizations may have equipment to lend (and NMC has helped stock those lending closets with donations of wheel chairs in the past).  Still, questions of convenient access directly impacts a wide variety of individuals, including orthopaedic patients who need braces or assistive devices, patients suffering fractures or back pain, and bariatric patients with medical needs.  In addition to decreasing the depth of equipment available locally, the closure of the specialty stores has decreased access to services such as custom fitting of equipment. 

A quick google search shows that the closest options include: Yankee Medical in Burlington and the Medical Store and Keene Medical Products in South Burlington.  It also shows another option that may work for some individuals.  The Vermont Assistive Technology (AT) Reuse Project manages an assistive technology exchange at www.getATstuff.com  and the VT AT School Exchange at www.Vermont.ATSchoolSwap.com.  Their website describes the exchanges as “online classifieds where you can donate or locate new and used assistive technology, durable medical, and vans.”  The forums are designed to “provide an avenue to affordable equipment” and they point out that “available items are often free or low cost.”  You can get more information and assistance by calling 1-800-750-6355.

This question from our community has amplified discussions with NMC’s staff of the challenges created by the closures of the specialty stores.  Regulations regarding the sale and distribution of Durable Medical Equipment are complex and the reimbursement process is complex.  Those factors, combined with the specialized nature of the items, have proven to make this a challenging business for the former small businesses, who focused exclusively on DME.  Still, there is need in the community, representing an opportunity for existing businesses or a new business.  The conversations sparked by this question will continue at NMC and our team will look for ways to appropriately assist in the meeting of these needs in our community.

— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC’s Chief Executive Officer