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RTS, RRTS®, NRRTS, conflict of interest? … cripples be damned

Posted Jan 10 2010 6:52pm

I am fed up with this entire wheelchair nightmare. As I get into it more, it gets scarier. I will hold for another post the fact that one of the most important safety issues, the tie down securement points for transportation, are messed up (it appears). The parts on the wheelchair are entirely different from what the owner’s manual shows and says must be used and have been tested. And the manufacturer has still not simply said, “you have a new version” or “what you have has been safety tested.” No, they say nothing, silence is golden. They sold me a chair with undocumented and different safety items (different from the ones they say you must use) and so far have not explained. But I digress.

What has me fired up now is learning exactly who is it that sells you the chair? Do they have any special training or certification? They seem so confident and tell you what you need. Well, so does an experienced heart surgeon as well as a used car salesman on his first day on the job.

Please answer the poll of the day on the right!

When you buy a wheelchair, the salesperson is probably an “RTS” … Rehabilitation Technology Supplier. RTS is a description, NOT a title. With enough friends and experience, the RTS may become “registered” with the NRRTS, the National Registry of Rehabilitation Technology Suppliers. At that point they can use the title RRTS®. Impressed? Don’t be. They are offered continuing education classes such as: “Wheelchair Use in Everyday Life … The use of wheelchairs and seating systems by users throughout their day is largely unknown. …”

You may remember the problem I had with Pearlsky’s wheelchair, described in part (from this post):

In March of 2008 one of the tilt-and-space pistons on my daughter’s wheelchair froze. Her chair was positioned all the way back and could not be changed. I was called to school and walked her home since we felt it was unsafe for transport. I called your company and told S the problem. She told me it would be at least 3 – 4 weeks to repair. I explained that my daughter could not be transported, could not go to school or the doctor, nor fed and she said there was nothing she could do.

During that incident, I called multiple DME companies in my area. This is important: each and every one said they would not sell me a part, nor repair the chair if they did not sell the chair to me originally (wait for the punch line at the end of this post as to who one of them was). I explained the importance, offered to pay any amount in cash, and again, each one declined to help me. Period. Beware, if you move, you will never get your chair repaired.

Well, now with all the problems with the new chair, I am learning about these companies and people. I find the NRRTS and they have a directory of all their members. Guess what, the ones who would not sell me a part, for any price, for my daughter’s wheelchair when she was bedridden for lack of a $125 part, they are registered with the NRRTS! So, you are saying, “Single Dad, what the hell is your point?” Well … their code of ethics includes (emphasis mine):

1. Provide competent, timely, high-quality equipment and services to meet the physiological and functional needs, as well as the goals, of the consumer.

4. Explain fully the consumer’s rights and responsibilities, including the right to work with a supplier of his/her choice.

Maybe I don’t understand English. If I have the right to work with the supplier of my choice, why won’t any supplier work with me? This is an emergency, I will pay cash for a simple part, but no, they won’t work with me.

So last week I asked the Associate Executive Director of the NRRTS, Judy Dexter, why no one will sell me a part to a wheelchair when my daughter was to be bedridden for 3 – 4 weeks for lack of an off the shelf part. Her response?

We do appreciate your situation and understand your frustration. Unfortunately, the changes being made on reimbursement for wheeled mobility and seating have forced many business owners to make some hard choices about the way they do business.

The “reimbursement” bit is a red herring, I told her I offered to pay cash. The point is, ethics are important unless, of course, there is a business decision that overrides our ethics. Note that just about all of the staff, the directors, the chairs of this organization all work for DME companies. What a crock. We will proclaim our ethics if it does not cost us money, but when there is a business decision, well, cripple be damned.

So, will they toss the RTS’s that did not live up to the code of ethics out of the registry? No. Well, maybe, but that would be a business decision ..

Silly me, I thought they cared about the disabled.

Study before you buy that wheelchair. Ask questions. Demand answers. Read the manual. Talk to friends, talk to me! Make sure your PT, OT or physician approves of EVERYTHING because that wheelchair sales person is just that, a sales person. I wonder if any are on commission or have quotas. His or her application of the code of ethics, well, apparently can be fleeting … And of course, make sure you will not move during the life of the chair, because DME’s will not repair a chair unless you bought it from them.

Remember, I really and truly like my RTS, he is a great guy, and he has lots of experience. But, he also delivered me an untested, scratched, non-working wheelchair and he did not know all the parts available, such as a washable seat cover. I have no doubt that the vast majority of RTS’s are good people, well meaning, hard working, and do the best job they can. But, and this is a major “but” … this device is everything to my daughter, without it her quality of life is horrendous. It is invaluable.

As for the hoity toity organization … ask them to respond to this post, I dare them (or you!) …

Simon Executive, director NRRTS (was president of a DME) smargolis@nrrts.org

and the funniest part:

John Zona, president (works for Lakeview Medical, a DME who TURNED ME DOWN for that wheelchair part), john.zona@fallon-clinic.com

And you can see here, everyone who gives the fancy-shmancy RRTS® title to your sales person works for a DME, hence they make money if you are impressed with your salesperson and his or her title!

And remember, you can’t spell “conflict of interest” without r-t-s.

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