Specialty Seating: reducing, reusing, recycling and repeating the process to help IWK families using wheelchairs

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Photo by Scott Thieu

While the COVID-19 pandemic has meant less time for IWK occupational therapists to spend face-to-face with patients it has presented opportunities to help in other ways. One being additional time available to reclaim, sort and refurbish parts from wheelchairs that are past their prime.

“When children outgrow their chair and get a new one, the family typically donates the equipment back to us,” says Julia Gates an occupational therapist who works in IWK’s Specialty Seating. “We sift through what is still usable, disinfect it, and catalogue it into bins.”

David Beattie (Specialty Seating Technician)Because of the recent downtime Gates, along with seating technician David Beattie, have been able to take stock of old wheelchairs, reclaiming parts that can still be of use. She estimates the total value of this recent reorganization to be over $12,000. Those parts can now be used for clients who need repairs. They estimate that about $150,000 of salvaged parts and equipment is recycled back to pediatric clients each year.

Typically a child is allowed funding for a new wheelchair once every five years, whether it is through private health insurance, community services or another agency that provides funding. Considering that children grow, and parts wear out, IWK Specialty Seating is able to maintain the equipment while they wait for funding.

“A new armrest, if we had to order it, might cost $300,” says Gates. “When we are able to reclaim a part we can offer it to the next family of need!”