Wheelchair Repair Bill – Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Thursday November 3, 2022

Contacts: 

Harry Weissman (Disability Policy Consortium ) at hweissman@dpcma.org; 617 977 4084

Kay Schoucair (Boston Center for Independent Living) at kays@bostoncil.org; 617 821 4394

Rick Glassman (Disability Law Center) at rglassman@dlc-ma.org; 617 315 4606

BOSTON – November 3, 2022:  Massachusetts wheelchair users and advocates gathered at the State House this afternoon to applaud today’s action of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the full Senate in supporting legislation to help fix the deeply broken wheelchair repair system in Massachusetts.  The measure was reported out favorably by the Senate Ways and Means Committee as S.3136  and was voted upon favorably by the full Senate.

Wheelchair users explained that the wheelchair repair bill is a critical piece of disability rights legislation that would improve warranty protections for people who use wheelchairs in Massachusetts.  Consumers and advocates described how wheelchairs and other durable medical equipment devices are often prone to defects and sudden failure. It is commonplace for consumers to be left stranded or isolated in their homes for weeks, or even months, awaiting repairs, unable to get to work, school, medical appointments, the grocery store, and in some cases to move around their own home. At worst, it can lead to serious health complications due to missed medical appointments, temporary solutions that are physically unsafe, and not being able to move one’s body.

The Wheelchair Warranty Bill, S. 3136, would expand warranty coverage to all wheelchairs in Massachusetts for two years; hold providers to firm timelines for responding when a chair is inoperable; provide loaner chairs and reimbursements to consumers while they wait for warranty repairs; and require providers to have access to an inventory of spare parts.

Senator John Cronin, the bill’s lead sponsor in the Massachusetts State Senate, explained why there is a dire need for this legislation. “When an industry becomes consolidated into only two or three providers, we may need guardrails to ensure basic fairness for consumers who have lost their bargaining power. This is especially true for people who use wheelchairs who are often already marginalized and who rely daily on their wheelchairs, to get to work, school, medical appointments or elsewhere in the community.

“Wheelchair repair is a health care crisis in Massachusetts, and we need legislation to address it,” said Harry Weissman, Director of Advocacy at the Disability Policy Consortium. “We’re grateful to the Senate for taking significant action on this issue today, bringing us a major step closer to fixing the broken repair system.”

 

Joe Bellil, as Vice President of Public Affairs at EasterSeals Massachusetts, spoke to how he’s seen this issue play out in his professional role.  “Throughout my career I’ve seen people with disabilities stuck in their beds and jeopardizing their health by not being able to access the care they need, just because their wheelchairs weren’t working. I have seen employees who use wheelchairs be forced to miss work due to needed repairs taking too much time.” A wheelchair user himself, Bellil added, “We don’t need any more barriers to prevent us from being able to be part of the community, and this bill helps us move forward.”

“As I looked back on the difficulties I’ve had with wheelchair repairs over more than ten years – so this is not a recent supply chain issue – what stood out most was that there were problems every single time,” said Ellen Leigh, a resident of Arlington, MA, who uses a power wheelchair. “No exceptions. When I needed help, from replacing tires to motors, repairs have always taken months.”

Ellie Vargas, a power wheelchair user supporting this legislation explained, “I think the bill is very important because myself and many others are experiencing delayed repairs and severe depression from it. While I was heading over to the State House today, a part of my power wheelchair which covers the wiring fell off. Repairs are very necessary to improve our life in general and gives us the opportunity to be part of the community and to work in the workforce. I am always looking for work and if my wheelchair is not up to date and maintained then the opportunity to work like everyone else is taken away from me.”

Bill Henning, director of the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL), noted, “BCIL applauds the action of the Senate—those using wheelchairs, fundamental to basic movement and mobility, too long have been subjected to challenges from manufacturers of wheelchairs. These protections are long overdue.”

Barbara L’Italien, Executive Director at the Disability Law Center, stated, “The Disability Law Center views access to a fully functioning wheelchair to be a civil rights issue since the chair allows for access in the home, at work, and for every other daily activity. Too many people have had that basic right of mobility taken away through a repair system which took too long and was not prioritized. I applaud the Senate for addressing this critical issue by setting a standard for warranties and timely repairs and hope the House will follow suit this session.”

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Supporters:
Advocates supporting this legislation include the Disability Law Center, Disability Policy Consortium, Boston Center for Independent Living, Center for Living and Working, Northeast Independent Living Program, Ad Lib Center for Independent Living, Cape Organization for Rights of the Disabled, Disability Resource Center, Southeast Center for Independent Living, Independence Associates, Metrowest Center for Independent Living, Stavros Center for Independent Living, Health Care for All, Easterseals Massachusetts and Greater Boston Legal Services.

Resources:

Disability Law Center Investigation of Tewksbury Hospital – Findings and Recommendations

DLC initiated a monitoring of Tewksbury State Hospital on April 23, 2020 due to reported concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19 at the facility, which houses units run by the Department of Public Health (“DPH”) and the Department of Mental Health (“DMH”). In addition, DLC received a complaint to the system regarding the hospital’s COVID-19 practices and procedures. DLC found probable cause on June 9, 2020 to open an investigation. At that time, the COVID-19 Weekly State Facility Report stated that 180 staff tested positive, 154 patients tested positive, and 18 patients had died from COVID-19. As part of its monitoring and investigation, DLC interviewed hospital leadership, and reviewed records related to COVID-19 infection controls and the records of the 18 patients who died from causes related to COVID-19. In addition, DLC conducted remote interviews with 32 DMH and DPH patients.

 

Per a letter dated July 6, 2021, DLC found that failures and delays in implementing appropriate COVID-19 protocols at Tewksbury did not adequately protect patients at the onset of the pandemic. DLC also found that once the infection control assessments were completed and the recommendations were implemented, the hospital successfully reduced facility COVID-19 transmission. DLC recommended the immediate development of a pandemic preparedness plan, including the following:

 

  1. Detailed safety procedures concerning prevention of the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases at Tewksbury and detailed criteria regarding when and how such procedures shall be implemented; 
  2. Detailed plans on how each unit will safely continue to provide services, recreation, exercise, fresh air and treatment when the pandemic preparedness plan is in place, rather than halt access to program and services; 
  3. Continued conversion of all quadruple and triple patient rooms to single and double rooms; and 
  4. Assessment of Wi-Fi dead spots and plans to immediately improve Wi-Fi access across the hospital. 

 

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