These Bay Area residents need medical equipment, yet they wait amid supply-chain woes
The ramifications of the global supply chain disruption for local medical supply companies are on stark display right now.
Peter Basco is practically confined to his apartment in Vacaville.
While he is disabled, he’s homebound in part because the supply chain issue has made it impossible for him to get the wheelchair he needs to be more mobile.
Basco is among millions of people in the U.S. struggling to obtain in-home medical equipment. For some, it is matter of life and death. For others, it affects their lifestyle, while for others, it is more of a nuisance or inconvenience.
“I made an order in June for some walkers and still haven’t gotten them. It is pretty incredible,” Carlene Chavez of Piner’s Medical Supply in Napa said in January. She handles all the ordering for the company, which has been in business since 1946.
Basco ordered his chair there in December. Even Chavez doesn’t know when it will arrive.
The delivery delays are being blamed on manufacturers’ inability to get the parts they need to build the products and the disruption in the supply chain.
“Supply chain shortages and disruptions have evolved over the course of this pandemic. At the onset of the pandemic we were dealing strictly with global demand for PPE products and an equally significant reduction in the manufacturing output for those very same products,” explained Mike Schiller with the Association for Health Care Resource and Materials Management, a leading membership group for health care suppliers.
The industry has been plagued with such shortages as semiconductors, aluminum, resins, silicone and energy. Labor shortages are impacting shipping ports and transportation sectors, and closer to home, clinical and supply chain staffing challenges, Schiller said.
“In my 35-year career as a supply chain professional, I have never seen anything, or worked in an environment, quite like this one.”
“Basically I rely on a wheelchair to do everything, even going to doctor’s appointments,” Basco said. “Without a wheelchair, I’m pretty much bed bound. I do have a walker, but I’m limited how long I can stand and how long I can walk.”
Last spring, he was a given a power wheelchair. The problem is its size.
The 51-year-old has been disabled since 2014 as a result of complications from lymphedema in his legs.
Fortunately, he is able to get most of what he needs delivered to his front door or family members bring him supplies. As for doctors, tele-medicine is the answer.
When Piner’s told him his chair was back ordered, he called around to see what another store would say. Same answer.
Because Basco has his hospital bed through the Napa company, which boasts of being Napa County’s No. 1 medical supplier, he stuck with them. The other bonus, he said, is Piner’s will assemble and deliver the wheelchair whenever it does arrive.
Stocking the shelves
Chavez said most customers at Piner’s are understanding of the delays. Still, the wait is unprecedented.
Specialty chairs used to take 14 days to build, now it’s closer to three months for her to see one delivered. A regular wheelchair would arrive in seven days; it’s also now taking three months. If scooters were in stock, it would be a three- to seven-day turnaround; now it’s 15 weeks.
Chavez is being told parts from China are the problem.
Jack’s Medical Supplies in San Anselmo is also having trouble stocking mobility devices — walkers, transport chairs, wheelchairs.
“We sell lift chairs. Those are almost a year out now. Usually they had the parts there to build and would send it in a couple months,” said James Clendening, an employee at the Marin County store.
That store is having a problem with anything that is made overseas or has components that are not from the United States.
“A lot of our inventory, though it says made in the USA, a lot is assembled in the USA and they get their parts from overseas and such,” Clendening said.
Most medical supply stores said they are coping by reaching out to more vendors and making bigger orders in the hopes something arrives. Customers may not be able to get the brand they want, but alternatives are usually an option.
These stores said supply shortages started at the onset of the pandemic two years ago, but the problems have gotten worse in the last six months.
“I think everyone that we deal with has also had a problem trying to find the exact product they are seeking. I was just on the phone with one of my customers who likes a particular glove that has been available for 30 plus years and it is not available,” said Lyn Sweet, who, with husband Steven, owns Sonoma Surgical Supply in Santa Rosa.
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