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Independence Center gives primary care doctors accessible exam tables 

A better check-up

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Dr. Glen House makes a living helping others overcome their health issues, but he’s never been atop an exam table himself in El Paso County.

House, medical director of Penrose-St. Francis’ Capron Neuro and Trauma Rehabilitation Center, is quadriplegic. He’s encountered a problem common to people who use wheelchairs: Some doctors he’s visited lack the proper training and equipment to give their patients proper checkups.

The Independence Center, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities, is striving to change that by inviting Medicaid and Medicare recipients to nominate their primary care doctor to receive accessible equipment for free. Available items include the UpScale accessible exam table, with an adjustable height and built-in scale; Hoyer-type lifts, devices used to transfer patients from wheelchair to table; and the portable loop system, a listening device that feeds audio directly into hearing aids.

This year, $75,000 in interest from the Independence Center’s board-run IC Fund will go toward tables, lifts and loop systems. The fund will also pay for an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) audit and disability etiquette training for each doctor’s office that receives donated equipment.

The nonprofit plans to make at least seven table-and-lift donations (with the training and audit, each of these will cost $6,800). The remaining cash will pay for loop systems, which ring in at $1,300 each with the audit.

While specialists are more likely to have tables that accommodate people who use wheelchairs, few primary care providers do, says Independence Center CEO Patricia Yeager. The free Mission Medical Clinic, which received a table from the Independence Center earlier this year, is an exception. (Yeager adds that Peak Vista Community Health Centers is also purchasing some tables.)

The issue is not that doctors don’t value accessibility, says Mike Ware, CEO of the El Paso County Medical Society.

“I would bet if you were to interview 10 physicians randomly in our community, they would all say that taking care of this particular population is extremely important,” Ware says. “They would also find it challenging to invest in this type of equipment.”

Ware says that since 2000, inflation-adjusted figures show that revenue from patient care has dropped, while the cost of operating a practice has increased. And primary care physicians are having to deal with more administrative burdens, such as electronic record-keeping, which may take away from their face-to-face time with patients.

Some doctors just might not be aware that accessible equipment is out there, says House, who spoke to Yeager about the Independence Center’s new initiative. “Before she showed me the exact table she had I didn’t know that existed. So it may be more of an awareness.”

Despite these challenges, some doctors are finding innovative ways to help patients with unique challenges. Yeager recounts the story of a woman who needed a gynecological procedure done but required a Hoyer lift to get onto an exam table. For years, she was unable to find a doctor willing to perform the procedure.

Finally, she found a doctor who had his staff go to the patient’s house and bring the Hoyer lift to the office, returning it after the procedure.

“More than likely that person’s [doctor’s office is] going to get a table [and Hoyer lift],” Yeager says, her voice breaking. “Because with the lift, I get all emotional about this, but it really changed that person’s life.”

Patients with disabilities can nominate their Medicaid or Medicare provider online at bit.ly/accessiblemed or by filling out a form at the Independence Center, located at 729 S. Tejon St.

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