What is a Loan Closet?

Article by: Sarah Nash
Training Director, Insurance Trust 

I love the saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”  It has proven to be true in so many areas of my life.

Recently my Dad fell and broke his hip socket.  He had to have extensive surgery with plates and pins to repair his hip socket.  He had a stay in the hospital followed by a stay in a rehabilitation hospital.  I had to learn very fast where to get the equipment he would need when he came home.

His insurance will only pay for one mobility item.  Mobility items are wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, shower chairs, portable commodes, or a toilet seat riser.  In my Dad’s case, his insurance paid for him to have a walker.  Dad’s Physical Therapist asked him if he’d received all the equipment he would need at home.  Previously the Case Worker had told my Dad and us that she’d take care of all that.  It turns out that the Case Worker does not arrange for your mobility items for use at home.  You need to make those arrangements!

The wheelchair, crutches, shower chair, commode, and toilet seat riser were now my mission.  Where to find these items, if I had to buy them all, or if we knew anyone that we could borrow these items from.  In true Murphy’s Law fashion, I had three days to procure all items.

As I started searching, I first looked at Amazon.com.  A basic wheelchair is $110.  A basic walker is $30.  Basic crutches are $25.  A shower chair that sits outside and inside the tub is $55.  A toilet seat riser is $27.  A bedside commode is $33.  So far, we are at $280 for the most basic versions of these items.  That number might not sound like a lot of money to some.  If you are out of work, do not have disability income, or are already on a fixed income, $280 can be an overwhelming amount to spend for these items that you may never use again once you are recovered.

The Physical Therapist gave my Dad a two-page document titled Loan Closets.  Talk about a total game changer?!  I had no idea that these places existed and as I tell others about the Loan Closets, it’s been proven to me that not a whole lot of folks know about these resourceful places.  I will attach the list for reference. First, I’ll tell you a bit about them.

The Loan Closets are places where you borrow (mostly) FOR FREE, (there is one place on my list that charges a small fee), the mobility items you or your loved one needs to recover.  Not all are equal in that some will have only basic items, but others have most all mobility items you may need, even hospital beds.  Some are limited to residents of that town only, but others will lend to anyone from anywhere in Maine.  We used the one in Standish which will loan to anyone whether they are a town resident or not.  They are located at the Kiwanis Club on Route 25.  If you’ve ever been to Kiwanis Beach, you can easily find this place. They have a garage filled with mobility items.  These locations are typically run by wonderful volunteers.  You might have to call and make an appointment to go and get the items you need.  Be sure to bring a tape measure and your notes.

Here is a List of Maine Loan Closets

Now that you know these wonderful places exist, let me share my newfound knowledge about some mobility items.

Wheelchairs

There is not just one type of wheelchair. There is what is called a transfer wheelchair.  This is to be pushed from behind by someone other than the person in the chair.  This type will have no handgrip rail on the wheel of the chair for the occupant to self-propel the chair.  Of course, this is the first one I brought home only to find out I had the wrong kind.  It never dawned on me to look and see if the handgrip rail was there.  I thought all wheelchairs had that on them.  I learned my lesson and had to go back and swap it out for the correct kind of chair.  Did you know that some wheelchair tires take air just like your car tires?  I did not know this.  I also did not know that the air compressor chuck we use for our car tires will not fit on the wheelchair valve stem.  Any guesses how I figured this out?  Let’s just say the hard way, outside in freezing weather. You will need an air compressor chuck that will fit bicycles and other types of similar items.  Other wheelchairs have solid wheels, and no air is required.  Now I know.  Had I known prior, I might have looked for solid wheels, to avoid said air compressor/valve stem issues.

Crutches

Not all crutches are the same size. Be sure to factor the person’s height in when choosing crutches.  They should not fit tight up to your armpit.  There should be space between your armpit and the cushion on the crutch.

Toilet Seat Risers

Toilet seat risers are not all equal. The one I brought home for my Dad sat on the toilet seat and had no handles.  He did say it was like sitting on cold concrete.  Luckily, he could get by without that item.  They also make toilet risers with handles that sit over the actual toilet almost like a chair.  Make sure you measure your area where your toilet is positioned in your bathroom to be sure it will even fit in the spot.  This goes along with the adage, “measure twice, cut once”, or if you are me, measure twice, and measure a third time to be safe.

Walkers

Walkers have hard wheels and make A LOT of noise on tile floors. You can upgrade the wheels to some softer, more quiet wheels should you have downstairs neighbors.  Tennis balls are put on the rear stationary walker legs to help them slide on the floor.  Carpeting, area rugs, and throw rugs will not be your friends during this time.

Shower Chairs

Shower chairs also proved to have more than one model. There are chairs that sit inside the tub.  Some have a back and armrests.  Some do not.  There are “double-wide” chairs so that one side sits in the tub and the other side sits outside the tub.  One can sit on the seat outside the tub and shimmy over to the other half that is inside the tub.  This is safer for some than stepping over the side of the tub to get to the chair inside the tub.

Vehicles

The last bit of helpful information has nothing to do with the Loan Closets, but it was another thing I had never considered. If you were injured and suffered a mobility issue would you be able to get in and out of your current vehicle?  My Dad drives a Toyota Tundra and my Step-Mom drives a Jeep Wrangler.  Dad’s injury prevents him from getting up/in both of those vehicles due to their height off the ground.

Hopefully this information is helpful and informative to anyone who suffers an injury or is left caring for someone with a mobility issue.  As I was researching how to get the Loan Closet list from New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Portland Maine, my phone call was directed to Maine Medical Center.  The nice woman who answered was named Martha.  When I told her what I was trying to find, she had never heard of this “list” and asked if I could fax it to her.  She gets many calls asking where folks can get mobility items.  The only place she knew to refer them was to Black Bear Medical.  I looked on their website and it doesn’t list prices, so I cannot speak for the cost to purchase any items from them. (Black Bear Medical is for purchasing items, and the cost is often offset by insurance.) Please note the information on the attached list is subject to change and accurate as of March 2021.

Please note that most of these Loan Closets will accept donations of mobility items you may have and not need.  They do ask that you make an appointment to drop off any donated items rather than leaving it unattended.

See A List of Maine Loan Closets