Don’t touch that cripple! (nor email her dad)

I hate working with DME (Durable Medical Equipment) companies. Most of them don’t get it …

I constantly have trouble with the company that has supplied my daughter’s wheelchair, the same one that is supposed to support it. Things got so bad, I finally wrote a letter to the top guy, his email being on their web site, the CEO himself.  I wrote a very polite four page email with specifics. The site even says “Feel free to email Mike” so I did. And, to make sure he got it, I faxed a copy. The email itself went to several people in the company.

Later the next day the COO, a seemingly wonderful woman, called and said all the right things. I did ask her if the CEO saw the email (that was addressed to him, after all) and she said “yes.”

I then sent the CEO another email praising the COO.

So, what is wrong with this picture? The CEO, Mike, has never written back to me. Not even a simple email saying “I am passing this on to the COO and she will be in touch.” Nothing. Not a “thank you for your email” nor a “screw you, you’re just a customer.” Nothing.  This high and mighty CEO falsely states:

The company’s success is due to “being the best it can be in seating and mobility in order to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.”

That is false as my email showed, but it galls me that this guy cannot even acknowledge me. No wonder his company treats its customers the way it does. What an example. I can only assume that he fears contacting me, because I am the father of a cripple and he may catch the cooties. Don’t touch the cripple or her dad!

You can read my email below. I did want to share and hide the company to protect the innocent (!) and I will, sort of. I have a feeling that maybe if you google his quote … hey, if I put his name, then people who google him will see this post.

Hit the “more” if you want to read the email. He never answered the questions directed to him in either email I sent. Those cooties are scary …

Mr. B:

I have been dealing with the personnel at the local area [company] for about 12 years, since they were [old name]. The experience in the beginning was poor and over the years, it has not improved. Actually, it gets worse. Lately I have lost some sleep over it, so it is time to once again try to let someone who may care know what the situation is. “Once again” because the last attempt was with a survey I received earlier this year where I put my contact info, but, alas, no once contacted me. The response I gave was not positive but the survey was so poorly worded that the information was actually useless to you.

I went on your web site and saw your quote:

The company’s success is due to “being the best it can be in seating and mobility in order to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.”

I also saw your accreditation …

“These organizations proudly display our Gold Seal of Approval™, a visible symbol of their commitment to providing the highest level of care.”

If you honestly stand by that, I implore you to read my email to the end. Obviously, it is up to you to deal with as you may, including hitting “delete” but please just hear me out.

I will be mentioning several people. First is my daughter [name]. She is sixteen years old and severely disabled, non-mobile, non-verbal. I strongly request that you look at this video … so that you can see who she is, and her abilities (ignore the topic at hand). Without that, this is all meaningless.

Note, and this is the key, when my daughter’s wheelchair is out of commission, she is bedridden . Without a working wheelchair she cannot be transported (school, doctor, etc.), she cannot sit up properly to eat, etc. There are limited places her lift can take her and no place she can safely sit. Again, no wheelchair, bedridden.

SL is one of your employees. There is a special place in heaven reserved for him. He gets it and he cares. I do not know his official position or title, but for years he was the guy that came to the house (“technician”?) or was in the clinic at the hospital. I have not seen him for a while but, as you will see, we are in touch. More on him in a bit.

S answers the phone with repairs and is the one who never returns calls. She doesn’t get it. In the past, [another woman] sort of understood (I understand she herself was in a chair) but I don’t hear of her anymore.

Now, some recent specifics.

In March of 2008 one of the tilt-and-space pistons on my daughter’s wheelchair froze. Her chair was positioned all the way back and could not be changed. I was called to school and walked her home since we felt it was unsafe for transport. I called your company and told S the problem. She told me it would be at least 3 – 4 weeks to repair. I explained that my daughter could not be transported, could not go to school or the doctor, nor fed and she said there was nothing she could do. I emailed the wheelchair serial number and factory part numbers needed. SL said he would see what he could do.

I went to Home Depot and jury-rigged two pieces of PVC pipe instead of the pistons to secure the wheelchair in an acceptable position. I got on the Internet, contacted Sunrise Medical and in three days had the replacement parts at my expense. I fixed the wheelchair. Four days vs. four weeks. Is that how it is supposed to work?

About six weeks ago (or so) I called to say that my daughter’s wheelchair was shaking side to side. I feared the axles were going (yet again) and did not want them to break for the reasons stated. S said she would schedule a technician. A week later, no technician scheduled I called and left a message for S and called SL. He had S call and schedule said technician. This person (name unknown) saw my daughter’s wheelchair at school. He called me from the site and said he did not see a problem. I suggested that he wheel her around and notice how the entire chair shakes from side to side. He agreed (duh). He determined she needed new wheels, new casters and some other parts, and would order them. So far about two weeks wasted. I got a call about two weeks ago that the parts were in and the tech would go to her camp and replace them. I made it clear I wanted any parts that were removed. One day my daughter came home with new wheels only and no old parts. I made three calls, one each morning, to S’s voice mail asking for an update on the other parts and asking where the old wheels were. These calls were never returned. Finally I called SL and asked the same. He said someone would get right back to me. Four hours later I called SL and mentioned that I have not heard from anyone. He said he spoke to them right after me and they said they would call. He called me back ten minutes later with the update. He said the wheels and casters were replaced. I explained that that is not true. He was told an untruth. Not the first time.

The casters were never replaced. After many phone calls I found that the replaced wheels were left at my daughter’s camp, never to be returned to me. I contacted the people at the camp, and the director, to get the parts. When they were returned, boxed by your technician, this past Friday, I find only the main wheels. No casters (appropriate, since they were never replaced in direct opposition to what SL was told). The main wheels still have some wobble in them, not much, but more than usual.

None of this surprises me. The last time the seat belt was replaced by a technician, I had to re-do it when she came home. The mechanism that holds the belt to the chair was threaded wrong, the bus driver just pulled on the belt and it came loose.

These are a few specific examples of many. Any chance I get I let those at the hospital know these issues. The response is usually “yes, I’ve heard that before.” Your reputation is at least appropriate.

Why can’t a simple call asking for an update be returned? Why can’t your own employee be told the truth? Why does no one do anything to shorten a three to four week wait for a part that makes a chair unusable? I have offered to pay any charges to expedite, to no avail.

As a single father of two severely disabled children, your company only makes my life more difficult.

If you have any questions about this, if this perturbs you at all, and trust me the stories go on, here is a constructive suggestion. Put SL in the horrendous position of telling you that this is true. He is a star employee, yet, he is the one that knows how bad things are. Especially in this economy, he would be a fool to bring this to light, and I have never asked him to. He knows my frustrations, although he has never shared if he has any. He always says he will take care of the issue without letting me know more. And he does. You should invite him to headquarters, and somehow get him to talk! (Calling Dick Cheney …). Minimally, ask him if this email is true. But then, he would be crazy to tell you how bad the others are. I am assuming he sees how things are from a consumer point of view. As an employee, he only speaks well of the company.

I have taken to buying parts and repairing the chair myself when it breaks. I try to be preemptive and contact your company when things are breaking but not yet broken. Many times I beg for you to send them directly to me so I can do the repair since it takes too long to get a tech to improperly do the work. I call SL after two unreturned calls from S. I have learned to deal.

Now, my real dilemma. my daughter is due for a new chair this fall. After this email, I obviously cannot use your company (as if S will ever schedule anything for me again …) yet I don’t want to leave SL’s advice and caring.

The company’s success is due to “being the best it can be in seating and mobility in order to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.”

Sorry, Mike, that’s just not the way it is.

I stand by everything I say here, and will attempt to offer any proof you may need. But please, don’t think that your company has improved the quality of life for all your clients with disabilities. That simply is not true.

Can someone send me the casters so I can replace them? What other parts did insurance pay for that have not been installed? Did you see said survey?

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