Birmingham Baptist Association taps a deep need for durable medical equipment with the help of STAR, Alabama's Assistive Technology Resource
Over the last fifteen years, Alabama's STAR Program (through the Dept. of Rehabilitation Services) has used its limited federal AT Act dollars to develop a statewide network of equipment reuse programs through public-private partnerships. It's a model the Pass It On Center--the national provider of reuse program technical assistance--has been working to highlight. STAR's diverse partners range from disability services organizations, like Easter Seals and United Cerebral Palsy, to low-income and faith-based charities, like Goodwill and the Birmingham Baptist Association (BBA). STAR offers its modest grants to community-based organizations that already have the infrastructure, sense of purpose, and community roots to nurture and establish successful reuse initiatives within their communities. In return, equipment reuse programs are often effective outreach for their private partners, raising awareness of the full range of services their host agencies provide.
Reused Medical Equipment Donated by you (ReMEDy) is one such program. It started in 2009 when a long-established faith-based charity--the Birmingham Baptist Association (BBA)--applied for STAR support to begin a durable medical equipment (DME) reuse project in western Birmingham. Although Birmingham is Alabama's largest city (pop. 212,000), up until that time people seeking refurbished power chairs, gently used walkers, shower chairs, etc. had to drive the 60 miles to STAR's Reclaim/Refurbish/Reuse (3-R) Project in Anniston. This was true despite the logical need for DME reuse in a city where 27.8% of residents live at or below the poverty line and nearly a third of whom do so with some form of disability (2010 US Census data).
What helped successfully launch ReMEDy and what has the program learned along the way? AT Program News had the opportunity to speak with both Branum and Helen Baker, executive director of Alabama's STAR Program. Below is more of what they shared.
According to Branum, Debbie Duke, director of Congregational Nursing Program for Baptist Health System (BHS), "clocked a lot of time driving to Anniston for equipment until she asked why we didn't have a reuse program right here." BBA is the parent organization to BHS (which runs four hospitals). 3-R Project staff referred Duke to Helen Baker, executive director of Alabama's STAR Program to discuss the idea. "The answer, it turned out, was that no one had ever asked before."
In 2007, Duke brought the situation to the attention of Princeton Hospital's Director of Chaplains, Lynn Gavin who helped run with the idea. "He was frustrated advocating for seniors, learning that insurance providers wouldn't pay the $85 for a shower chair. He wanted other options." Gavin helped pulled together meetings with reps from BHS and BBA. Eventually BBA Director Mike McLemore, and others from BBA (including Branum) went to meet with Baker.
BBA's Community Assets
For BBA, identifying the need for a DME reuse project met with perfect timing. In 2009, BBA was in the process of creating initiatives for a new ministry center in western Birmingham--the Center at Central Park. The Center would re-purpose a large BBA church facility that had once housed a congregation of close to 3,000 people and was now down to fewer than 100. There was space to adopt. Also helpful was the Center's location; western Birmingham is a distressed community in need of revitalization, and an ideal location for a program offering free durable medical equipment. Of course it helped, too, that BBA has an over 100 year history of operation within the community including the provision of health care. Today ReMEDy is the Center's cornerstone initiative, anchoring and raising awareness of other Center offerings.
Program Nuts and Bolts:
- Two half-time staff members operate the program. Branum and an administrative assistant, Myra Patterson, are tracking data, writing grants, training and coordinating volunteers, sanitizing and finding storage for equipment, and responding to community requests and donations.
- Marketing has been largely word-of-mouth, both through established healthcare networks and among community members served.
- Equipment transport is provided by equipment donors and recipients whenever possible, and by program staff when not.
- ReMEDy provides a monthly inventory to STAR that is incorporated with other reuse centers' inventories and posted on the STAR Program Web page. (STAR is looking at converting to the AT4ALL data system--see the AT4ALL article this edition).
Additional Program Partners:
- The Community Foundation of Birmingham provides a $15,000 grant.
- AT&T organizes a twice-yearly equipment drive among its 2000+ area employees.
- In addition to BBA, local churches--including the United Methodist church across the street--donate storage space, volunteers, and financial support.
- Do not reinvent the wheel. "One of the keys to starting a program," Branum asserts, "is that you go see one that is active." Branum and McLemore studied how the 3-R program in Anniston is organized. Eventually Branum also visited the Huntsville and Montgomery programs, as well as FODAC in the neighboring state of Georgia. Branum learned about sanitizing equipment, storage, inventory, and policies and procedures through the PIOC online knowledge base, and by attending two PIOC conferences in Atlanta.
- Negotiate your liability insurance at the outset. BBA's insurance provider would not cover a DME reuse program that includes equipment involving breathing or blood, and ReMEDy had to assure that they would have safe practices with the mobility and seating equipment they loan out.
- Get trained on data reporting. Branum credits Baker for providing training on how to effectively track and report data. STAR requires that certain data be consistently collected and reported as a requirement of the STAR grant.
- Document as you train others. Branum is creating a manual he calls "The ReMEDy System" to house all the necessary forms and other program documentation, policies and procedures, and systems for program operation. "It's hugely complicated if you don't grow up with it," he realizes. On the statewide level, Baker is also making use of the ReMEDy start up experience, and is at work on a manual: "How to Start a Reuse Center" which will include a policies and procedures template.
- Be flexible with equipment transport. "Our program would be in its infancy if we had said from the outset that we would never collect or deliver equipment. We had to be willing to go to people's homes and work with them." Branum has been using his own vehicle and trailer, but recently received a donated cargo van for this purpose.
- Keep learning. Branum is facing challenges with building the program's capacity to meet the rising demand for services. He plans to explore Americorp/Vista internships and additional grant sources. Baker is looking to bring together additional stakeholders to discuss ongoing sustainability.
- Create a network of reuse programs. On the state level, Baker is working to connect the STAR reuse programs more closely for sharing and problem-solving. She has recommended, and is in the process of developing, a statewide AT Reuse Network and Summit among other initiatives.
Learn more about the Alabama STAR reuse network:
Check out the PIOC 08/31/11 webinar on partnerships to expand reuse. Helen Baker provides a lively overview of the STAR reuse network.
- A model reuse program operating budget is available under Finance>Budgeting
- Marketing/PR provides over a dozen articles ranging from "Community awareness--developing a strategy" to targeted advice, such as "Press Releases--how to use."
- Sustainability offers strategies ranging from capacity building and funding to stakeholder engagement.