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by: Liz Beaulieu - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

This is a heart-warming and heart-wrenching story that was published in the St. Petersburg Times on July 5 about an invention called Angel Hands. It rolls under the legs of a disabled person, then closes and lifts.


Angel Hands' inventor, Gary Kluckhuhn, envisions it moving through different parts of a disabled person's home on ceiling tracks, giving him new found independence.  No need for a caregiver to carry him or slide him into a more traditional patient lift. Kluckhuhn's stepmother, who works with disabled people, said "hoisting people in slings (is) a remnant of the Dark Ages."

The story of Angel Hands is intertwined with the story of J.T. Doody, a marine who lost a leg in Iraq. He also suffered from a bacerial infection that affected his brain.

Here's how the story ends...or should I say begins:

Just a few weeks ago, an Angel Hands prototype hung from J.T.'s ceiling. It was the first test spin on an actual patient. A VA official was there to witness.

Robert Bolline, the man who lifts lifeboats, worked a control box that dropped the robotic hands on either side of J.T.'s hips. The little conveyor belts spun with a soft whir, and the hands slid under J.T.'s legs.

J.T. yelled, "Up, up and away!"

He was aloft, swinging toward his wheelchair.

Angel Hands' makers believe it requires a thousand more hours of engineering and a couple of more million dollars. They've approached the National Institutes of Health for a small business innovation and research grant. The goal is to develop a sleeker, smaller Angel Hands that J.T. and other disabled people can operate.

Then, when J.T. one day finds his own reasons for getting out of bed, he'll be able to do it himself.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Here are a few upcoming wheelchair athletic events:

The 29th National Veterans Wheelchair Games kicks off next week (July 13-18) in Spokane, Wash. More than 500 wheelchair athletes will compete in everything from quad rugby to archery to power soccer (shown below) to track and field. Admission is free to the public, if you're in the area.


And the 30th US Open Wheelchair Championships takes place Sept. 1-6 in St. Louis. Sponsors include the HME industry's own The Roho Group and U.S. Rehab.

On that note, I'm taking off to go get some exercise. I'd do it outside, if it weren't raining...again!

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cigna Government Services, the DME MAC for Jurisdiction C, pointed out in a June 26 bulletin that manual wheelchair issues make up, on average, 8% of all redeterminations. Fifty-four percent of those issues involve same or similar denials. As such, Cigna reminded providers that they should make certain that beneficiaries understand that manual and power wheelchairs are considered similar equipment. Medicare will not cover both items when they are used simultaneously. Backup wheelchairs have no coverage benefit. Same or similar denials also occur when more than one provider supplies equipment.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I just finished writing two stories for our August issue about rehab providers that are using technology to improve their productivity.

ATG Rehab recently announced plans to arm all of its 70 rehab technology suppliers (RTSs) with customized tablet PCs to complete documentation in the field and upload it wirelessly. Using the technology, RTSs like Brian Edwards have been able to provide wheelchairs—from evaluation to delivery—in about 65 days instead of 85 days. (The industry average, by the way, is 90 to 100 days.)

Then there's Jim Noland, owner of Presque Isle Rehabilitation. He's beta-testing a Web-based software program that simplifies the process of creating and completing letters of medical necessity (LMNs) for wheelchairs. Noland says he was inspired to develop LMNBuilder after years of getting "gargage letters" from therapists, which hurt his chances of getting paid.

These rehab providers aren't just complaining about cuts—and there's plenty to complain about.

They're men of action.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This just in, courtesy of an e-mail blast yesterday from NRRTS: It's rumored that, to help pay for healthcare reform, the Senate Finance Committee, like the House Ways and Means Committee, will propose eliminating the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs. But the Senate Finance Committee may exclude Group 3 power wheelchairs. Officially, members of the Senate Finance Committee left Capitol Hill last week for their July 4th recess without releasing their draft bill.

In the meantime, NRRTS encourages registrants to call lawmakers on the Ways and Means Committee. It provided the following conversation template:

"Please tell Congressman <name>  or Congresswoman <name> that I <live> or <work> in their District and I am opposed to the elimination of the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs as proposed in the discussion draft published by the House Ways and Means; Energy & Commerce; and Education & Labor Committees. The specific language that I oppose is on page 208-209, Section 1141 of the document. I would like the Congressman <or> Congresswoman to know that this proposal, to eliminate the first month purchase option for power wheelchairs, will have a devastating impact on the quality and access to service for my clients with significant disabilities - who are his <or> her constituents as well."

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Thursday, June 25, 2009

I stumbled across this blog today (I know, I know; I'm blogging about a blog!) that features photos of concept wheelchairs designed by Jack Eadie. Who's Jack Eadie? I'm not sure. I found this bio of him online. It looks like he's a third-year university student in Australia who's designing an electric power wheelchair as part of his final year project. Anyway, you have to check out these chairs. They look cool, and they seem functional. The blogger describes them as "sorta a Segway/wheelchair hybrid." I'm not sure chairs like this will hit the market any time soon, but it's always neat to see how a pair of young eyes views a product that's been around for decades.

Jake Eadie

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tammy Wilber, state coordinator for the Ms. Wheelchair Washington State Pageant, sent out an e-mail blast earlier this month to recommend a new wheelchair device called FreeWheel. The device attaches to the front of a wheelchair, allowing users to push over difficult surfaces like curbs and rough roads.

I have had a handcycle bike before, but I had a lot of issues carting it around in my car,” Wilber wrote. “The FreeWheel gives me that same feeling, but it weighs on about 5 pounds. You can even clamp it to the back of your wheelchair.

The creator of the device, Pat Dougherty, is a quadriplegic. You know what they say: Necessity is the mother of invention.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The rehab industry scored a victory last week when the medical directors agreed to add some but not all of the diagnoses it suggested to the list of conditions that qualify patients for skin protection and seat and back cushions for wheelchairs. For skin protection cushions, approved diagnoses now include 342.0 hemiplegia/hemiparesis, 333.4 Huntington's chorea, 333.6 idiopathic torsion dystonia,  333.71 athetoid cerebral palsy and transverse myelitis. For seat and back cushions, they include 879 traumatic amputation of leg (complete or partial), 756.51 osteogenesis imperfecta and transverse myelitis. The industry seeks to continue working with the medical directors to change the local coverage determination (LCD) for seating so it's more clinically driven, not diagnosis-driven.

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Monday, June 22, 2009

The California Department of Health Services recently announced a pilot program to contract DME. The department's first target: adult, non-powered wheelchairs, according to Bob Achermann, executive director of the California Association of Medical Product Suppliers (CAMPS).

The state seeks to contract directly with manufacturers to determine a fair acquisition price on DME and then offer providers that price plus a markup, Achermann.

While a number of states have contracted supplies like adult diapers, I haven't heard of states contracting wheelchairs. Have you?  What's included under adult, non-powered wheelchairs? Will custom manual wheelchairs be included?

Achermann says the state seeks comments on what should/shouldn't be put out for contract.

When one state makes a leap like this, others are usually watching closely.

Stay tuned...

Liz Beaulieu

by: Liz Beaulieu - Friday, June 19, 2009

So I talked to rehab provider Bruce Bayes over at Custom Mobility in Largo, Fla., earlier this week. He told me that Sailability Greater Tampa Bay, which provides affordable and accessible sailing activities and education to children and adults of all ages and abilities, had a special guest in May: Sam Schmidt, the former Indy Racing League driver who became a quadriplegic after an accident during a practice run in 2000. Schmidt has since formed the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation and Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Check out these photos of Schmidt as he sails with Gary Soodak, the lead service technician for Custom Mobility, in a customized seat fabricated by the provider.

Liz Beaulieu