Reviewed by: Seana Kenefick
Published/updated: July 28, 2022
With age comes wisdom, but it also comes with the need for mobility devices and other types of durable medical equipment. These needs contribute to the rising healthcare costs seniors face as they get older. Fortunately, there are programs in place to help pay for DME.
Medicare Part B covers durable medical equipment, but just because DME is covered doesn’t mean that it’s easy to get with Medicare benefits. Medicare only pays for DME that’s purchased from an approved supplier; for seniors in rural areas, it can be difficult to find an approved store nearby, limiting access to needed items. Seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B must also pay 20% of the Medicare-approved cost for each item, making it difficult to afford some of the more expensive types of DME.
Medicare Part B only covers durable medical equipment if it’s medically necessary, which means the item has been ordered by a health care provider to treat an illness, injury, condition or disease and its symptoms. With seniors in some areas waiting weeks for medical appointments, using Medicare Part B benefits to pay for DME can lead to unnecessary delays.
Recognizing the need to make it easier for seniors to access canes, walkers, wheelchairs and other DME, many organizations have created medical equipment banks. These banks solicit donations of gently used DME, sanitize the items and distribute them to people in need, ensuring that seniors can get immediate support instead of waiting for approval from a doctor or insurance provider.
This guide provides an overview of the items typically collected by medical equipment banks and contains a directory of state resources to help seniors and their caregivers access needed items.
Used Medical Equipment: What You Should Know
If you’re wondering if it’s safe to use medical equipment that’s already been used by at least one other person, you’re not alone. Some seniors hesitate to accept DME donations because they’re concerned about exposure to infectious organisms. The good news is that medical equipment banks clean and sanitize donated items before they distribute them to others, making it very unlikely that you’ll come into contact with germs from someone else’s home.
Hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities already have guidelines in place for cleaning medical equipment between patients. Many of these same techniques can be used to disinfect canes, walkers, wheelchairs, bedside commodes and other items before they’re distributed via medical equipment banks. Additionally, medical equipment banks typically deal in “non-critical items,” which only come into contact with a person’s intact skin. These items can typically be cleaned with low-level disinfection methods, preventing bacteria, viruses and fungi from spreading.
Medical equipment banks also check items thoroughly before distributing them to seniors in need. If an item doesn’t work properly, an organization may pay to have it repaired. For low-cost items, however, it may make more sense to discard something broken instead of investing additional resources to fix it. It all depends on what’s wrong with the item, how much it’s likely to cost to make the repair and whether the organization can find needed replacement parts. The bottom line is that medical equipment banks only distribute items that are safe and in good working order.
Types of Medical Equipment
Medical equipment banks rely on donations, so they don’t always have the same items in stock. Most organizations also have donation restrictions to prevent community members from receiving items that are missing parts or can’t be cleaned effectively. That said, many equipment banks stock the following items.
A bedside commode is a portable toilet that doesn’t require water. Commodes are helpful for seniors who have mobility problems that prevent them from getting to and from the bathroom without assistance. A bedside commode can be placed in a bedroom, living room or almost anywhere else in a house or apartment, making it possible to use the bathroom even if no one is available to help with ambulation. The cost of a bedside commode varies by supplier. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans have access to one model that costs just over $225.
Some medical equipment banks offer nebulizers, oxygen concentrators, CPAP machines and other equipment designed to help people with respiratory problems. A nebulizer turns liquid medication into a mist, allowing the user to inhale the medication directly into their lungs. Oxygen concentrators filter the nitrogen out of room air, allowing more oxygen to enter the body when a person breathes in. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. In people with sleep apnea, CPAP machines are used to keep the airways open during sleep.
All these items make it easier to breathe and may help seniors prevent complications associated with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and other respiratory conditions. The most affordable nebulizers cost about $50, but some models cost several hundred dollars. An oxygen concentrator is much more expensive, costing anywhere from $500 to $2,000 depending on the brand and the size of the machine. CPAP machines may cost more than $1,000 each. Users may incur additional expenses to use these machines, such as the cost of purchasing new tubing for an oxygen concentrator.
Geriatric and Seat Lift Chairs
Geriatric lifts help seniors by making it easier to get up from a seated position. A Hoyer lift, for example, helps older adults get out of bed, increasing their safety and independence. Some companies also make stairlifts, which are installed on rails to make it possible for seniors to get back and forth between the first and second floors of their homes. Geriatric lifts and stairlifts are some of the most expensive types of durable medical equipment, with some models costing $5,000 or more.
Many seniors have medical conditions that make it difficult to get comfortable in a regular bed. Older adults may also have difficulty rolling over, sitting up and performing other movements when they’re ready to get up and go to bed each day. Hospital beds make it easier to perform these movements, as they have adjustable heads and feet. A senior who has difficulty sitting up, for example, can simply raise the head of the bed for some extra support. Adjustable hospital beds may also go up and down, making it easier for a home health aide or family member to provide personal care.
Basic hospital beds start at $500, but they may cost quite a bit more depending on the features needed. Some seniors assume that renting a hospital bed is a good way to reduce their out-of-pocket costs, but a rental company may charge several hundred dollars per month for a rental. Users may also incur additional expenses, such as the cost of buying new sheets to fit a larger mattress.
Personal Mobility Devices
Personal mobility devices are used to help seniors get around their homes and communities. Canes, walkers and crutches are some of the most common examples of these devices. Mobility devices help seniors maintain their independence by making it easier to walk, stand in line and perform other activities that may be more difficult due to arthritis, balance problems and other age-related changes. These devices also help prevent falls, which may help seniors avoid serious medical complications.
Canes are relatively inexpensive, with the most affordable options costing less than $20 each. Depending on the model, a walker may cost less than $100 or more than $600. Rollator walkers, which have wheels on the bottom, tend to be more expensive due to their extra features. Wheels make a walker easier to maneuver, giving seniors more freedom when they want to go exploring.
Sensory aids are items that stimulate one or more of the five senses: sight, touch, sound, taste and smell. Hearing aids are one of the most common sensory aids used by seniors, as older adults may have age-related hearing loss that makes it difficult for them to communicate with others. Unfortunately, traditional insurance plans offer limited coverage for these devices, and Original Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids at all. In the United States, consumers can expect to pay an average of $2,500 for hearing aids; there may even be additional costs for fitting exams or adjustments.
For seniors with balance problems, poor coordination and medical conditions that cause pain while standing, it can be difficult to take a shower. A shower chair eases the burden by allowing the user to sit comfortably in a shower enclosure and take as long as needed to wash and get ready for the day. Some models have padded armrests and other features to make them even more comfortable.
Shower chairs are some of the most affordable pieces of durable medical equipment, but it can still be difficult for seniors with limited incomes to buy them. A basic model costs about $50 when purchased from a big-box retailer. Shower chairs purchased from a medical supplier or specialty store are likely to cost more.
Wheelchairs allow seniors with a wide range of physical limitations to be more independent and prevent the isolation that comes from being unable to leave the house due to mobility problems. Manual chairs are powered by the user, so they require some arm strength to use safely; an alternative is to have a trusted friend or family member push the chair from behind. Power wheelchairs have motors and electric controls, enabling users to operate them even if they have weak arm muscles or other limitations that prevent them from using manual models.
Due to their complexity, power wheelchairs are among the most expensive types of durable medical equipment, with some models costing as much as $20,000 to $30,000 each. Manual wheelchairs cost anywhere from $100 to $800 each; the most expensive models have additional features that make them more comfortable and easier to use.
Eligibility for Free Medical Equipment
Each medical equipment bank has its own guidelines for determining eligibility. These are some of the most common criteria:
- Medical need: Some programs require applicants to prove that they have disabilities or functional limitations before borrowing donated medical equipment.
- Residency: Individuals may need to live in a specific state, county or city to qualify for services from a medical equipment bank.
- Insurance: Many medical equipment banks limit their offerings to applicants without health insurance. Some organizations may waive this requirement if an applicant’s insurance plan doesn’t cover durable medical equipment or provides extremely limited coverage.
- Financial circumstances: Individuals may need to provide proof of income or other financial information to determine their eligibility.
- Prescription requirements: Some medical equipment banks won’t loan or give away durable medical equipment unless the individual has a prescription from a licensed health professional.
Where To Access Free Medical Equipment in Each State
|Alabama||Alabama AT4All||(800) 499-1816||Alabama AT4All accepts donations of durable medical equipment and distributes items to Alabama residents with disabilities. Available items include walkers, crutches, braces and canes.|
|Alaska||Access Alaska DME Loan Closet||Anchorage: (907) 248-4777Outside Anchorage: (800) 770-4488||Access Alaska operates the DME Loan Closet, which makes adaptive equipment available to Alaska consumers who can’t afford to purchase bedside commodes, medical beds and other items.|
|Arizona||Arizona Technology Access Program||(602) 776-4670||The Arizona Technology Access program links Arizona residents with local providers of used medical equipment and assistive technology. Users can search for equipment providers by ZIP code, type of equipment or population served.|
|Arkansas||Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP)||Visit your local Goodwill location||Operated by Goodwill Industries of Arkansas, HELP loans out donated medical equipment to consumers across the state. Any consumer can contact their local Goodwill to inquire about borrowing needed items.|
|California||The Durable Medical Equipment Aid Society||(818) 298-9893||The Durable Medical Equipment Aid Society is a nonprofit organization serving seniors and disabled adults in Southern California. Consumers with no health insurance or limited financial resources may qualify for free wheelchairs, walkers and other types of durable medical equipment.|
|Colorado||Volunteers in Action Durable Medical Equipment Bank||(303) 713-9144||VIA accepts donations of gently used medical equipment and distributes items to residents of the Denver area.|
|Connecticut||Mae’s Closet||(475) 414-8333||Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers operates Mae’s closet, a medical equipment lending bank serving residents of New Haven and surrounding areas. All equipment is sanitized prior to distribution.|
|Delaware||AT Exchange||(302) 831-6974||The AT Exchange distributes donated medical equipment to residents of Delaware and surrounding states. Available items include shower chairs, commodes, toilet lifts and overbed tables.|
|Florida||Clinics Can Help||(561) 640-2995||Headquartered in Palm Beach County, Clinics Can Help collects, cleans and repairs used medical equipment and distributes it to individuals who can’t afford to buy brand-new items. Donated items include canes, patient lifts, nebulizers and wheelchairs.|
|Georgia||Friends of Disabled Adults & Children||(770) 491-9014||FODAC aims to provide free and low-cost medical equipment, including wheelchairs, to residents of Georgia with disabilities.|
|Hawaii||* As of May 2022, Hawaii doesn’t have any medical equipment banks.|
|Idaho||Living Independence Network Corporation (LINC)||[email protected]||LINC loans out wheelchairs, transfer benches, hospital beds, canes, crutches and similar items to those who need them. For residents outside the Treasure Valley area, LINC can also make referrals to other sources of free or low-cost medical equipment.|
|Illinois||Illinois Assistive Technology Program||(217) 522-7985||IATP offers a variety of free aids to help Illinois residents with their daily living needs. Available items include hospital beds, shower lifts and positioning devices.|
|Indiana||Turnstone||(260) 483-2100||Located in Fort Wayne, Turnstone lends gently used medical equipment and adaptive items to residents of Northeast Indiana. Commodes, wheelchairs, crutches and other items are available on a first-come, first-served basis.|
|Iowa||Easterseals Iowa Equipment Loan||(515) 309-2395||Easterseals Iowa operates the Equipment Loan program, which gives disabled Iowans access to donated medical equipment. Applicants must provide a prescription from a licensed health care provider before borrowing items.|
|Kansas||Kansas Equipment Exchange||(620) 421-8367||Operated by Assistive Technology for Kansans, the Kansas Equipment Exchange distributes patient lifts, wheelchairs, hospital beds and other donated items to eligible residents of Kansas.|
|Kentucky||Project CARAT||(502) 992-2448||Coordinating & Assisting the Reuse of Assistive Technology aims to make DME and assistive technology more accessible to Kentucky’s underserved areas. Depending on inventory, available items may include shower benches, manual wheelchairs and bedside commodes.|
|Louisiana||Southwest Louisiana Independence Center||(337) 477-7194||SLIC operates the Loaner Closet, which accepts monetary donations and donations of gently used medical equipment. Donations are used to loan out shower chairs, wheelchairs, walkers and other types of DME. The organization is located in Lake Charles, Louisiana.|
|Maine||Partners for World Health||(207) 774-5555||Headquartered in Portland, Maine, Partners for World Health distributes donated medical equipment to individuals throughout New England. Used items must be in like-new condition and have all necessary batteries, electrical cords and attachments.|
|Maryland||Maryland Durable Medical Equipment Reuse||(240) 230-8000||Maryland Durable Medical Equipment Reuse distributes donated DME to any Maryland resident with a disability, injury or illness. Depending on availability, seniors may be able to get power scooters, power wheelchairs, mechanical lifts, home hospital beds and other items. All donations are sanitized and repaired as needed.|
|Massachusetts||Massachusetts’s Initiative to Maximize Assistive Technology (AT) in Consumers’ Hands (MassMATCH)||(877) 508-3974||MassMATCH has three regional centers responsible for distributing DME throughout Massachusetts. MassMATCH also maintains an online inventory listing, which has categories for hospital beds, ambulatory devices, sensory items and other common types of medical equipment.|
|Michigan||Lending Hands of Michigan||(269) 567-4381||Located in Portage, Lending Hands of Michigan loans out knee scooters for a maximum of 3 months and other types of equipment for up to 7 months. Although donations are paused until 2023, the organization is still distributing previous donations. Available items include crutches, walkers, transport chairs and wheelchairs.|
|Minnesota||ConnectAbility of Minnesota||(320) 253-0765||ConnectAbility accepts gently used medical equipment in good working order. Inventory changes weekly, so seniors may be able to find inflatable seat cushions, canes, Hoyer lifts and other items. ConnectAbility also offers assistive technology to make it easier for people with disabilities to use computers and video game consoles.|
|Mississippi||Second Time Around Program||(662) 377-4058||The North Mississippi Medical Center Rehabilitation Institute operates the Second Time Around Program, which makes new and used items available to people who can’t afford needed medical equipment.|
|Missouri||St. Louis Health Equipment Lending Program (HELP)||(314) 240-0796||St. Louis HELP assists Missouri residents access medical equipment to help them regain their mobility and become more independent. The organization also holds an annual health equipment drive to increase the number of items available to those in need. HELP has two locations, one in St. Louis and one in Jefferson County.|
|Montana||MonTECH Equipment Recycling Program||(406) 243-2841||Headquartered in Corbin Hall at the University of Montana, the MonTECH Equipment Recycling Program provides gently used medical equipment to residents of Montana with temporary or permanent disabilities. Community members are allowed to borrow items for up to 180 days.|
|Nebraska||ReUse Network||Omaha: (402) 979-0142Lincoln: (531) 207-2226Kearney: (308) 440-8000||The ReUse Network aims to reduce waste and help Nebraska residents in need by distributing donated items that have been cleaned and/or repaired. Donations are accepted from individual community members as well as for-profit and nonprofit organizations throughout Nebraska.|
|Nevada||CARE Chest||(775) 829-2273||CARE Chest works to fill insurance gaps for needy residents of Northern Nevada. Residents with limited incomes may borrow items for as long as they’re needed. For residents with incomes exceeding the limit to receive free assistance, the organization also offers paid memberships. For $50 per year, each member can borrow items for 4 to 8 weeks at a time.|
|New Hampshire||Community Caregivers of Greater Derry||(603) 432-0877||Community Caregivers of Greater Derry operates the Loaner’s Closet, a medical equipment bank with more than 14,000 items in its inventory. Using grant funds, the organization was able to purchase a commercial sanitizing appliance, ensuring that every donated item is disinfected thoroughly before it’s distributed.|
|New Jersey||Richard West Assistive Technology Advocacy Center (ATAC)||(888) 322-1918||ATAC aims to help residents of New Jersey overcome barriers that make it difficult to access medical equipment and assistive technology. The organization maintains an equipment library, partners with Goodwill Home Medical Equipment to promote the reuse of gently used items.|
|New Mexico||New Mexico Technology Assistance Program||(505) 841-4464||NMTAP operates the Back In Use program, which provides used medical equipment to New Mexico residents with disabilities. The program is intended for people who wouldn’t be able to access needed equipment without help, as well as individuals who need equipment to fill gaps when they’re waiting for ordered items to arrive or be repaired.|
|New York||Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities (TRAID) Program||(800) 624-4143||The TRAID Program makes assistive devices available to any New Yorker who needs help to perform activities of daily living. Residents in need should contact a regional TRAID Center to inquire about currently available items. TRAID also offers training to help people learn how to use assistive devices correctly.|
|North Carolina||Assist M.E.||(704) 659-1123||Assist M.E. distributes used medical equipment to low-income residents of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County who don’t have health coverage. The organization aims to prevent falls and other medical complications that can occur due to a lack of mobility equipment. Available items include walkers, bedside commodes and shower chairs.|
|North Dakota||Healthcare Equipment Recycling Organization (HERO)||(701) 212-1921||HERO accepts donations from individuals and local health care organizations, making clean, functional medical equipment available to residents of the Fargo-Moorhead area. Items are distributed to community members who are experiencing financial hardship. Since it opened, HERO has distributed more than 460,000 items.|
|Ohio||Ohio Valley Goodwill Medical Equipment Loaner Program||(513) 771-4800||Ohio Valley Goodwill operates the Medical Equipment Loaner Program, which gives community members access to donated items for a nominal ($5) rental fee. Items are available to residents of the Greater Cincinnati area.|
|Oklahoma||Oklahoma ABLE Tech Device Reuse Program||(405) 523-4810||Oklahoma ABLE Tech manages the Device Reuse Program, which distributes gently used medical equipment throughout Oklahoma. Although SoonerCare enrollees are given priority, any resident of Oklahoma can request an item from the program, regardless of their financial circumstances. Oklahoma ABLE Tech sanitizes every item and repairs items as needed to ensure they’re in good working order.|
|Oregon||ACCESS||(541) 690-3972||ACCESS distributes used medical equipment to residents of Oregon who sign a liability waiver and agree to return each item in good condition. Available items include toilet safety frames, bedside tables, bed rails, Hoyer lifts and hospital beds.|
|Pennsylvania||Changing Hands||(717) 737-3477||Changing Hands works with Pennsylvania Areas on Aging and nonprofit organizations to distribute donated medical items to residents who don’t have insurance or have to wait for an insurance provider to approve the purchase of DME.|
|Rhode Island||Robert J. Allen Medical Equipment Distribution Center||(401) 451-0184||The Masonic Grand Lodge of Rhode Island operates the Robert J. Allen Medical Equipment Distribution Center, which distributes donated medical equipment free of charge. Items are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.|
|South Carolina||School of Medicine Columbia Equipment Reuse Service||(803) 935-5273||SCATP’s Equipment Reuse Service accepts donations of durable medical equipment and assistive devices. These items are distributed to South Carolina residents, with priority given to veterans and community members who are eligible for Medicare, Medicaid or services provided by the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department.|
|South Dakota||DakotaLink Equipment Exchange/South Dakota Medical Equipment Recycle & Reuse Program||DakotaLink: (800) 645-0673 MERR: (866) 274-2594||Using funds from the South Dakota Department of Social Services, MERR distributes used medical equipment to residents who qualify for Medicaid. Before obtaining recycled medical equipment, Medicaid enrollees must obtain a prescription for each item.|
|Tennessee||United Cerebral Palsy of Middle Tennessee Equipment Exchange||(615) 242-4091||Although the Equipment Exchange is operated by United Cerebral Palsy of Middle Tennessee, seniors in need don’t have to have a cerebral palsy diagnosis to receive donated items. The program is intended for Tennessee residents who aren’t insured or don’t have the financial resources needed to purchase durable medical equipment or assistive devices.|
|Texas||AGE Health Equipment Lending Program||(512) 600-9288||The AGE Health Equipment Lending Program makes medical equipment available to Texas seniors, people with disabilities and individuals with limited financial resources. Equipment loans have no time limit, eliminating the need for community members to renew a loan over and over again.|
|Utah||Utah Independent Living Center Short-Term Loan Program||(801) 466-5565||Utah Independent Living Center’s Short-Term Loan Program aims to ensure that Utah residents have uninterrupted access to mobility aids and other medical equipment when their own items are being repaired or they’re waiting for new items to be delivered.|
|Vermont||Vermont Assistive Technology Program||(800) 750-6355||The Vermont Assistive Technology Program allows Vermont residents to borrow durable medical equipment and assistive devices for up to 30 days. Borrowing from VATP can help fill a short-term need or give a community member the opportunity to try several items before deciding which one to purchase.|
|Virginia||Foundation for Rehabilitation Equipment & Endowment (F.R.E.E.)||(540) 777-4929||F.R.E.E. distributes wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches, toileting aids and other pieces of medical equipment to uninsured and underinsured residents of Virginia. The organization has six locations to ensure residents all over the state can access the equipment they need.|
|Washington||Ecumenical Christian Helping Hands Organization (ECHHO)||(360) 379-3246||ECHHO lends commodes, wheelchairs, crutches, bath seats and other items to any Washington resident who needs them. Community members must call ahead to arrange to borrow donated items.|
|West Virginia||Preston County Senior Citizens Medical Equipment Loan Closet||(304) 329-0464||Preston County Senior Citizens distributes gently used medical equipment to seniors and individuals with disabilities residing in Preston County, West Virginia. Available items include wheelchairs, walkers, bedside toilets and canes.|
|Wisconsin||Health Equipment Lending Program||(715) 843-5985||Founded in 2005, Wisconsin’s Health Equipment Lending Program distributes used medical equipment to residents who don’t have insurance or don’t have the financial resources necessary to purchase DME from a traditional supplier. Although HELP accepts donations to defray program costs, there’s no fee to borrow items.|
|Wyoming||Family Network of Wyoming||(616) 885-9919||The Family Network of Wyoming maintains an inventory of durable medical equipment that’s cleaned and loaned out to Wyoming residents with a demonstrated financial need. Available items include bathroom aids, shower seats and crutches.|
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