When a wheel fell off Troy Hutcherson's power wheelchair as he was leaving a Colts game, the Indianapolis resident's father and bystanders had to ferry the man and his 300-pound chair through a crush of fans. "I was shocked," says Hutcherson, whose surprise turned to anger at the company that had recently serviced the wheelchair.
Hutcherson's mother, Brenda Lynch, says they'd taken the power chair to Home Health Depot on Guion Road for annual maintenance before the incident. "When we got the wheelchair back, the wrong tires were installed, a seat belt was missing, bolt caps under an armrest were missing, and the seat hinge wasn't securely fastened," says Lynch, who facilitates her grown son's care since a 1990 car accident. "It looked like a science project from a bunch of fifth-graders."
Matt Miller, a branch manager for Home Health, disputes Lynch's description and contends she delivered the chair without a seat belt. He says when she returned it, his company provided a free belt and resolved Lynch's issues, but declined to elaborate further. He apologized for the subsequent incident outside the football stadium, saying it was a technician's error. "That's a mistake we will not make again," Miller says, calling it a "worst-case scenario." He maintains the company fixed the wheel after the Colts game, but Lynch says she had the wheel repaired elsewhere and filed an F report on Home Health.
Locally, member reports in the Home Healthcare - Medical Equipment & Services category, range from glowing A's to nightmare F's, reflecting the national picture, according to Jenifer Simpson, senior director of government affairs for the American Association of People with Disabilities. "It's all over the map in terms of whether you get good stuff, bad stuff, good service or bad service," Simpson says. In addition, cost, insurance coverage, brands retailers service and medical referrals can restrict consumer choice. "We're talking about very expensive technologies, [so] you can't just walk into a different service station, like you can with a car," she says.
Home Health has 12 locations across the Midwest. The two Indianapolis locations rated on Angie's List - one on South U.S. 31 and a second on Guion Road - that Home Health bought from Adaptive Mobility in 2009 - each have a grade of C based on six and nine reports, respectively.
Co-owner Nathan Feltman says he takes complaints against his company seriously and that a few bad reports on Angie's List don't accurately reflect the more than 95 percent customer satisfaction rates calculated from monthly surveys of 5,000 customers. "We've been around since 1998 and patient quality and care is something we take the utmost pride in," he says.
The company sells and services wheelchairs and other medical equipment, and partners with medical providers to accommodate patients with complex needs, ranging from stroke to neurological disorders. "We're just not like any other wheelchair provider," Feltman says, explaining that his firm custom builds chairs and has Indiana's largest service department. "We work with people who face some of the most challenging health issues imaginable." Technicians receive training in-house and from manufacturers, and Home Health is accredited by the Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals.
"They are meeting the needs of our veterans," says Julie Webb, a spokeswoman with the Indianapolis VA Medical Center, which contracts with Home Health. Along with the company's in-house customer service surveys, she says the VA independently monitors patient satisfaction, and Home Health makes the grade.
Home Health isn't the only local medical equipment company contending with ratings of C or lower on Angie's List. ATG Rehab in Indianapolis rates an F, based on reports from Lucille Alberici of Noblesville and another member who declined to be interviewed. Both say they got the runaround when attempting to get a power wheelchair. The company didn't respond to messages left by Angie's List seeking comment.
Alberici ultimately got a wheelchair through Home Health, but says it has persistent control issues that technicians can't fix. She's filed two F reports on the company, one for complaints related to a ramp installation and another for the wheelchair problems. Feltman and Miller say repeated house calls have determined user error, not mechanical issues, are to blame.
Alberici says she'd like to replace her chair, which Medicaid covered at a cost of $18,000, but she isn't eligible for a replacement through the government health insurer until 2015. Indeed, insurance can be a double-edged sword, says Simpson, the advocate for people with disabilities. Regulation by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has reduced consumers' options, she says. Private plans also limit how often individuals can get new wheelchairs, even when repeated repairs fail. "You're kind of stuck with the company you got it from because you're not eligible for another wheelchair until at least another two or three years," Simpson says.
Experts advise asking about terms of purchase, refunds, service contracts, and what insurance will pay before making any decisions. If you're unhappy with a provider, talk to a health professional or the manufacturer about other options.
Brenda Lynch called the Tennessee offices of wheelchair maker Permobile, which referred her to highly rated United Seating & Mobility in Indianapolis. She says the firm installed new batteries and two new wheels. In October, Hutcherson got a new wheelchair through the company. "They are just wonderful," he says.
Eric Higbie shares Hutcherson's relief at finding a medical equipment dealer he feels he can trust. The Indianapolis member suffers from a neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system called Lyme neuroborreliosis and depends on a motorized scooter. "Access Mobility has a scooter repairman that knew what he was talking about," he says.
John Ausbrooks, owner of A-rated Access Mobility of Indianapolis, says experience is the key to good service. "Most of our employees have been with us for many years," Ausbrooks says. He says many companies have opened and closed during the 30 years he's been in business. "For long-term support, it really makes a difference to stick with someone who has been around for awhile," he says.
Check Angie's List reviews to find a highly rated medical equipment & service shop in your area.