COVID's impact on accessibility varies

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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Depending on who you ask, the COVID-19 influence is either helping, hindering, or having no impact on demand for home accessibility services.  

The virus pandemic has had the biggest impact on the HME industry’s elderly clients, who have comprised the majority of deaths and hospitalizations since it first appeared in February. As a result, seniors are concerned about their vulnerability and are spending the majority of their time in seclusion at home. 

With elderly clients aging in place and in need of accessibility modifications, it would suggest that demand for these services would increase. And in Troy Holland’s experience, it has. 

“Demand is definitely up for medical equipment and mobility products for the home due to COVID 19,” said Holland, president of Logan, Utah-based Stander. “We see the demand steadily increasing due to more and more elderly not wanting to enter a nursing home with the risks involved, thereby increasing their desire to age in place at home.” 

With about 80% of elderly falls occurring in the bathroom and bedroom, consumers are definitely looking for modifications in those areas first, Holland said.  

“We are seeing increased demand for our most versatile products like the Security Pole and Curve Grab Bar for the bathroom, or the EZ Adjust Bed Rail to prevent nighttime falls from bed,” he said. “I also think that more end-users and caregivers are starting to realize that they don’t have to necessarily tear down walls in order to make their home safe. There are products that exist in our market today that allow people to ‘retro fit’ their home to make it safe and more accessible for themselves and their loved ones.” 

Shawn Krupicka, sales manager for Fairbury, Neb.-based Prairie View Industries, sounds even more bullish. 

“The demand for home accessibility is high – higher than I’ve ever seen it,” Krupicka said. “Even before the pandemic we saw this to be the case. More and more consumers are wanting to stay in their homes as they grow older and I believe this trend will only continue to increase.” 

Conversely, Rick Pearce, sales manager for Long Beach, Calif.-based Mac’s Lift Gate, believes demand has dropped during the pandemic. 

“If there is a rise in demand for these products right now, we haven’t seen it,” he said. “Sales are down 50% and interest is low. People are afraid of contact with strangers, so they are not opening their homes for site evaluations.” 

Given the continued need for home modifications, a dip in demand caught Pearce and his company off guard. 

“Believe me, we were surprised by it,” he said. “But with the uncertainty of tomorrow, the cost of $6,000 to $7,000 for a new lift, delivery and installation is something people just don’t feel the need to spend on right now.” 

Others like Brian Clark see little if any change. 

“The demand in the marketplace has not changed dramatically from what we can tell,” he said. “With COVID-19, the uncertainty for putting an elderly person into an institution for care has created more awareness of the option to make the home more accessible to keep them in a safe environment. But people are not calling providers to get estimates on projects they may consider in the future.” 

In-demand products 

As part of the aging-in-place domain, mobile medical alerts have drawn a lot of interest in the COVID era, noted Ryan Wall, vice president of business development for Ogden, Utah-based Freeus. 

“Because many seniors are not permitting home health workers, or even their own relatives into their homes, they are alone for the majority of the time,” Wall said. “Paired with their increased risk of falls, seniors are in need of outside communication and a way to get help quickly while alone.” 

Holland agrees that remote monitoring is “definitely something that will be on the rise in the future, with long-term care being the last resort for most people.” However, he added that “remote monitoring does not prevent a fall from occurring, so grab bars, ramps and other mobility devices for the home will always be needed.” 

To be sure, “ramps and other accessible aids will always be a part of the equation in making a home suitable for aging in place,” Krupicka said. This means HME providers serving the accessibility market need to conduct a thorough assessment of each client’s needs to determine the best home modification options. 

“Providers need to be ready to put the consumers’ minds at ease.” Krupicka said. “Having the knowledge of the right ramps and other equipment to use is essential in achieving this. The consumer will gain confidence in you, the provider, will appreciate your efforts and buy what they need from you.”