HANCOCK - A new local program aims to improve the quality of life for children in need in a more timely manner than medical companies can provide.
The Equipment Loans for Kids program, or ELK, is a partnership between the Copper Country Intermediate Schools District and Portage Health of Hancock. The nonprofit program has been collecting used and new medical equipment ranging from walkers and crutches to wheelchairs and standers for kids with disabilities.
"We're a group of therapists that works mostly with children," said Kathy Penegor, a contract physical therapist with the CCISD.
Daily Mining Gazette/Stacey Kukkonen
Kathy Penegor, a contract physical therapist with the Copper Country Intermediate School District, Jonathon Packman, an occupational therapist with Portage Health and Tiffany Paavola, also an occupational therapist with Portage Health, have recently teamed up with Monica Aho and Cynthia Stites, PTA, (not pictured) to form the Equipment Loans for Kids program.
Some of the needs are from children who have had life-long disabilities and also kids who seek equipment for temporary use, Penegor said. The program is geared to ease the wait time for kids in Houghton, Keweenaw and Baraga counties who need equipment whether they have insurance.
"We see they need something, we want to get our hands on it as soon as possible," she said.
Tiffany Paavola, an occupational therapist with Portage Health, said they have been busy collecting the equipment and will begin creating a database to get a better handle on the needs of local children and families. Often, by the time kids get the equipment they need, they have grown out of the restraints and need different equipment.
"They're missing milestones," Paavola said.
The equipment helps kids to meet their motor milestones and helps them develop socially and visually.
The program was started after an obvious need forced the groups into a partnership to explore ways to alleviate the way children receive medical equipment, Paavola said.
"It's been getting more and more difficult just to get equipment covered by insurance in general," she said. "Medicaid kept cutting more and more what they would reimburse these vendors for."
What's more difficult is getting the support of Medicaid in the Upper Peninsula after the vendors collectively pulled out of Medicaid because the vendors could no longer afford giving out equipment the children need because they would lose money, she said.
"Sometimes the vendors downstate would get more from Medicaid for a piece of equipment than vendors in the U.P.," Penegor said. "We didn't realize it was unfair practices."
With ELK, local families can get equipment and are asked to take good care of it and return it for others to use. Families aren't required to go through the prior approval process and the two-to-three month wait for equipment.
"As the years progressed, it kept getting worse, and the economic downturn in Michigan didn't help," Penegor said. "Michigan is hurting and so is the Medicaid system."
Now, children wait up to 18 months for prior approval and to get equipment, Penegor said, and many children have already grown out of the equipment when they receive it.
Sadly, a local child passed away before receiving equipment, she said.
"There are loan closets in the area and we'd like to network with them," Penegor said. "There are some for seniors and adults, and we work mostly with children."
The people with ELK moved into a vacant space near the BRIDGE School in Hancock, which is owned by the CCISD. With the help of volunteers, they stripped the interior of the building and helped rebuild a special place to house equipment. As they collect equipment, they have been organizing equipment. McGann's in Hancock donated lumber and Ed Semmons and Tom Stimac helped build the exterior of the space. Habitat for Humanity donated a door.
Although they cannot take monetary donations, they can receive equipment for use.
So far, a few families have donated several pieces of equipment which equal more than $10,000.
"It's all like brand new," Penegor said. "If older equipment is still usable, we'll use it."
Jonathon Packman, an occupational therapist with Portage Health, said the program to help out families to eliminate more stress in their lives.
"The key thing it to help children," he said. "It's about the children."