HAZARD, Ky. — As the price of aluminum continues to skyrocket, hospitals across the U.S. are reporting shortages in wheelchairs, canes and walkers. A program at the University of Kentucky refurbishes assistive devices while filling the gap of supply chain issues.
Project CARAT, which stands for Coordinating and Assisting the Reuse of Assistive Technology, is a partnership between UK and various agencies across the state that started in 2010 and provides medical equipment to those in need.
The student-run program takes donated equipment, cleans it and makes repairs if needed. Then, they redistribute it to people in need.
Leading the way is one of the student coordinators, Andrew Shrum. Shrum spent nearly a year caring for his late grandparents, so he has some experience when it comes to assistive devices like wheelchairs, canes and walkers.
“So my papaw actually used a standard walker to get around sometimes as he got on later in his life so those types of things can definitely be beneficial,” Shrum said.
That’s what led Shrum to the Physical Therapy program at UK where he is involved in Project CARAT. The program helps people in need like Wanda Brown’s mother, who said her insurance did not cover the wheelchair she needed for recovery.
“My mother had bowel obstruction surgery and had some respiratory complications and had to stay bedridden for a long time and was having a hard time getting up, and so when she got ready to come home she still needed a lot of assistance,” Brown said.
From January to April 2022, Project CARAT produced nearly $23,000 worth of equipment. In March alone, the program produced $9,000, and just in April produced $874, all of it given away to people who need it.
But amid a global aluminum shortage and prices expected to increase $3,000 per ton, the program is struggling for donations.
“We were getting lots of donations from Pikeville Medical when they are turning over their current equipment, they buy new ones, they would send the old ones that need refurbishing to us,” said Patrick Kitzman, a professor at the University of Kentucky in the department of physical therapy. “That hasn’t happened quite as much because they’re having to keep it.”
That’s the reason why programs like Project CARAT make a difference in the communities they serve.
“You’d be amazed at how expensive renting these things are, it’s unreal,” Brown said. “So I’m going home to get that Hoyer lift and send it back that I’m renting and come back down here and get this one, take it home.”
Project CARAT also distributes portable ramps while they wait for a more permanent fixture. If you’re interested in donating or are in need of an assistive device, contact the CARAT Hazard Main Site at UK Center of Excellence in Rural Health.
The contact is Keisha Hudson, who can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (606) 439-3557.
The program also has two satellite sites, one at Kentucky Homeplace in Rowan County and one at Kentucky Homeplace in Harlan County.
Kala Gilliam is the contact for Rowan County and can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at (606) 784-3881.
Darla Shepherd is the contact for Harlan County and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (606) 574-0239.