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ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Health Equipment Lending Program, also known as St. Louis HELP, said there is a critical shortage of wheelchairs and other health equipment.

Because of the pandemic and supply chain issues, many people are forced to wait long periods of time in pain.

“We’re getting reports from people saying that they just need something for their father to help get him out of bed after surgery. And unfortunately, sometimes the waits, even through insurance, can be as long as six months,” said Karen Lanter, Executive Director for the St. Louis HELP.

The organization is asking members of the greater St. Louis and Crystal City communities to clean out their closets and basements to donate any wheelchairs or other health equipment.

The nonprofit helped Lindsey Odom of Edwardsville get a wheelchair. Odom said she expected to wait months, but they got back to her the next day.

“I expected maybe there would be a little bit of pushback of me reaching out because I am ambulatory, I can still walk – a chair is a mobility aid for me to be able to do things more easily. And I was worried that it would be ‘well do you really need it?’ sort of process and it was never like that,” said Odom.

St. Louis HELP said a lot of times insurance denies coverage for certain medical equipment, or the process is just too long for some patients.

Kelly Schnitzmeier, an Occupational Therapist with AW Health Care, was able to get one of her bedridden patients a specialized wheelchair through St. Louis HELP.

“I, as a therapist, cannot tell you how much time I spend trying to get the different pieces of equipment for my patients in a timely fashion. Because a lot of this equipment significantly affects their quality of life, their safety,” said Schnitzmeier.

The organization typically gets 30 requests on average per day for help, but now more than 50 have become the norm.

“People call, they make a request, they leave their height and weight, the item that they’re looking for hoping to get,” said Karen Breen, Equipment Resource Coordinator. “I check for availability, and then return the call, unfortunately, because demand has been so high, I’m just turning down more people than I’m helping.”

“No matter how non-influential you might think your crutches or your boot are, something like that, there’s probably somebody out there who needs it and can’t afford it,” said Odom.

This organization has been loaning health equipment to those in need, free of charge for more than 15 years. If you would like to learn more about the St. Louis HELP program and its needs, click here.