Regina woman frustrated after wheelchair rental rejected

Wait-lists to rent wheelchairs in the province grew during COVID-19.

Jeremy Simes 4 minute read January 21, 2022

Michelle Riche poses for a portrait on Monday, January 17, 2022 in Regina. She has raised concerns about being able to access a wheelchair and other equipment for her mom who had suffered a stroke. TROY FLEECE / Regina Leader-Post

After being told she couldn’t rent a wheelchair and walker for her mom, Michelle Riche says the family had no choice but to pay up and purchase the necessary equipment.

Riche said this week they were denied because her mom didn’t have a physiotherapist or physiotherapy plan when she was discharged from hospital.

“This is leaving the brunt of her physical movement on us, her family members, to get her around,” said Riche, whose mom needed the equipment after suffering a stroke. “So, I ended up hunting down some equipment to be able to give her some kind of movement back.”

Rental equipment provider SaskAbilities declined to comment on the case and referred questions to the Ministry of Health’s Saskatchewan Aids to Independent Living program, which sets client eligibility.

In a statement, the ministry said clients must meet certain criteria to rent equipment. According to a government document, people who want to rent standard wheelchairs or folding walkers require a requisition from a physiatrist, occupational therapist, physical therapist or home care nurse.

“These are things stroke patients, any patients, should be getting regardless,” Riche said.

According to the latest data from the provincial auditor, the wait-list has grown to access certain types of such equipment.

The auditor said COVID-19 had caused longer wait times for power wheelchairs, resulting in delays in fitting appointments, as well as delays to deliver the equipment to long-term care homes because of lockdown conditions.

It reported there were 70 people waiting for power wheelchairs by the end of Dec. 2020, an increase of 45 people from 25 people waiting in September 2020.

The auditor said there were more requests for manual wheelchairs than in the past. SaskAbilities also had staff challenges, which resulted in less time to process requests, it said.

There were 193 people waiting for manual wheelchairs by the end of December 2020. This is a decrease of 86 people from 279 waiting in September 2020, though higher than the 86-person wait-list in 2018-19.

In December 2020, 18.6 per cent of clients were waiting more than four months for a power wheelchair and 57 per cent were waiting more than four weeks for a manual wheelchair.

SaskAbilities considers these timelines acceptable, according to the auditor.

A woman uses a walker as support. According to a provincial document, people in Sask. who want to rent standard wheelchairs or folding walkers require a requisition from a physiatrist, occupational therapist, physical therapist or home care nurse. sanjagrujic / Getty Images/iStockphoto

“We have definitely had some challenges in terms of the timelines for providing that equipment,” said Mark Wyatt, the assistant deputy health minister, when asked about wait times for power wheelchairs during a public accounts meeting on Jan. 11.

“We’ve seen some improvement over the last few years around the numbers waiting over the four-month period that’s noted by the auditor,” he continued. “And so that’s something we’re continuing to work away at.”

The auditor said the ministry has put in place plans so people can receive equipment within an acceptable time frame. SaskAbilities also purchased a large number of power wheelchairs in 2021.

In Riche’s case, she said it would have been more affordable to rent equipment.

“It’s been quite substantial in terms of costs,” Riche said. “If she would have been given that (physiotherapy plan), she would have been covered. Instead, we have to pay out of pocket.”

Terri Sleeva, an advocate who is quadriplegic, said living with a disability is expensive.

While she hasn’t attempted to rent equipment, she said people do go without if they can’t afford it. For example, she hasn’t been in her basement because she can’t afford an elevator.

“Trying to exist in a quality of life is so difficult when you’re disabled, but it’s not the end of the world,” she said. “We do have to live within our capabilities. Society is coming a long way but it’s so far back.”

Sleeva hopes all spaces can become barrier free. She also wants the province to introduce proposed accessibility legislation, which is expected to look at the design of public spaces.

“We need them (the government) to look at life through a disability lens. It benefits everyone in the end,” she said.

Riche said the entire health care system needs to be overhauled to make it easier for people to access the support they need.

“We need to take a big look at what we’re doing and change it,” she said. “There are so many things that could be done to rectify situations like this, and make it so much easier all around.”

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