The pandemic has not only contributed to a shortage of home health aides but also affected the medical equipment industry, home health equipment suppliers told Fox News. This has created problems for individuals who need equipment servicing for wheelchairs, home oxygen equipment, ventilators and more, according to some home health agencies.
Anecdotal reports of home care equipment personnel shortages said without equipment specialists, vulnerable seniors are forced into nursing homes and left struggling with how to adjust or service their own equipment.
Craig Rae, owner and president of Salisbury-based Penrod Medical Equipment, told Fox News, "Every business owner I know has the same problem – can’t find people willing to work. We experience it with our suppliers as well. It used to take an hour or so to get a quote on a part for repairs. Now it is taking two to three weeks just to get a quote on a part. During that time, our patients aren’t mobile."
Rae said his company deals with a high demand for repairs for power mobility equipment like power wheelchairs and scooters and told Fox News, "When the demand is higher than our capacity, there are people stuck in their homes, or even worse, unable to get around their homes."
The owner of the medical equipment company also said, "Oftentimes we end up in a triage mode, as we may have somebody that needs to get to dialysis, which we need to prioritize over somebody with less urgent needs."
Finding workers is a challenge, according to Rae. "We're having a hard time filling positions. For six months, we’ve advertised heavily for a new technician. I’ve had 3 responses, two of which weren’t remotely qualified, and the other would not respond to phone calls or emails to schedule an interview. Two years ago, I’d get roughly 30 to 40 applicants for every position, all within a few days of posting the ad", Rae told Fox News.
Tom Ryan, the president & CEO of the American Association for Homecare (AAHomecare) said in a statement to Fox News, regarding staffing issues, "Workforce challenges have been exacerbated during the pandemic as delivery technicians took on the role of frontline workers, setting up medical equipment in homes of COVID-19 patients and needing to put on personal protective equipment. Under those circumstances, it’s understandable that they should be looking for higher pay."
Ryan also said, "Staffing challenges are just part of the problems that the home medical equipment community has been facing as a result of the pandemic. Our industry has been feeling these impacts since early 2020. We surveyed HME suppliers in April 2020, and found widespread difficulties and higher costs across every product category."
Rae said besides the shortage in the workforce, the current supply chain issue is another reason the medical equipment industry and its patients are facing difficulties. The medical equipment owner told Fox News that the company is still waiting for repair parts for mobility equipment ordered six months ago.
"We have dozens of patients who have suffered because of the combined labor/supply chain challenges. Everybody does. Over half of our phone calls are angry patients that are tired of waiting to have their equipment repaired. Unfortunately, we can’t fix it without parts," Rae told Fox News.
Medicare reimbursement rates add to the challenge making it almost impossible to break even on repairs, Rae said. "We’ve experienced enormous cost increases and Medicare is still paying with 6-year-old reimbursement rates and labor reimbursement that is less than 1/5th of actual cost to complete repairs."
Rae said Lawmakers need to update reimbursement rates to match current market needs and costs. "Doing so will help us face supply chain problems and attract more workers," Rae told Fox News.
Until these challenges are met, Rae said patients can only wait, use manual mobility equipment and rely on help from friends and family members.