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From wheelchairs and walkers to power chairs, canes and medical beds, Project MEND has been the only supplier of refurbished medical equipment in San Antonio and most of South Texas for the past 23 years.
The organization supplies equipment to individuals who are uninsured, underinsured, or otherwise cannot afford it. While the type of services offered by many other nonprofits tend to overlap, Project MEND’s role has remained unique.
Now, in addition to home medical equipment reutilization, the organization is taking on the role as a demonstration center for the Texas Technology Access Program. For now, the center will be located in the Project MEND San Antonio headquarters, and is one of 16 such demonstration centers in Texas.
“The Texas Technology Access Program was developed by the state to carry out the requirements of the federal Assistive Technology Act of 2004,” said Cathy Valdez, Project MEND executive director.
The federal act, originally passed in 1988 and amended in 2004, requires states to provide direct aid to individuals with disabilities to ensure they have access to the technology they need. As a result, states are required to promote assistive technology reutilization programs, assistive technology demonstration programs, alternative financing programs, and device loan programs.
“Overall, the mission of the act is to increase access for people with disabilities with assistive technology that provides them with more control over their lives and enhances their independence,” Valdez added. “The selection of Project MEND as an assistive technology demonstration center will play an expanded role in delivering both new and used medical equipment to those in need.”
Assistance Was Not Always Available
Although the original federal Assistive Technology Act was passed in 1988, and there was a local Assistive and Rehabilitative Services office, there were still many individuals in the region who went without the home medical equipment they needed.
Murlin Johnson was a volunteer in that office and decided he and his wife, Shirley, needed to do something to help the people he was seeing every day. In 1992, Johnson and Shirley began working out of their home and loaned out a used wheelchair and a power chair to needy individuals.
In 1993, they filed for a 501(c)(3) designation and Project MEND was born.
“By 1998, Murlin and Shirley had secured enough funding to purchase a small warehouse to house the used equipment, and through their relationships with local social workers and state officials, were able to get a license from the state Health Department to be a salvage facility for medical equipment,” Valdez said. “While the founders eventually left the running of the growing organization to others, they had created a unique and useful service for the community.”
Valdez has done much to help the organization grow and prosper in a crowded nonprofit environment. Today, local and regional hospitals are a key referral source for Project MEND, making sure that individuals have the kind of medical equipment they need when they are discharged.
“As one of many nonprofits in this region, we all end up sharing the same clients and the same resources,” Valdez said. “For example, Any Baby Can or TEAMability are working with children who have multiple disabilities. While they can provide very specific services for that family and child, neither one can provide the medical equipment or assistive technology that we can provide to that child.
“That uniqueness makes us a valuable public service and critical to the ultimate success of many clients of other nonprofits.”
Funding and Equipment Donations
Each year, Project MEND serves about 1,500 clients and supplies about 3,000 separate pieces of medical equipment. While some clients only need one piece of equipment, others may need multiple pieces to be cared for at home.
“Unfortunately, about 140 individuals are turned away each month because of a shortage of specific types of used equipment. We are totally dependent on public donations of used medical equipment to supply our steady stream of clients,” Valdez said.
A complete list of needed items can be found on the Project MEND website here.
In addition, the organization relies on funding from cash donations from the public, a state contract with the Texas Center for Disability Studies at UT Austin, an annual fund raising gala called “Toast of the Town,” and a few foundations.
“Having people with great influence in the community, like Gordon Hartman, to acknowledge our agency and spread the word that they believe in our cause, all of that is a huge plus,” Valdez said. “When we’re able to say that we get funding from the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, it helps when we’re applying for grants and applications.”
As for the assistive technology demonstration center, it will feature state-of-the-art high-tech devices like hearing devices, communication devices, eating devices, special computers, and low-vision resources in a “try-before-you-buy” atmosphere. Project MEND will operate the demonstration center for San Antonio, but other demonstration centers located throughout Texas do not necessarily provide refurbished medical equipment.
The recent designation as an assistive technology demonstration site will help spur growth in general, according to Valdez.
“I think this has come at a good time and may speed up our move to a newer and bigger facility that we’ve been planning,” Valdez said. “For the time being, the demonstration center will be housed at our headquarters in San Antonio. Ultimately, we hope to have a new warehouse facility and have a demonstration campus where people come and try the new technologies, and provide a training area for caregivers as well as the client.”
Top image: Providing refurbished wheelchairs and other home medical equipment to people in need fills an important niche in San Antonio and much of South Texas. Photo courtesy of Project MEND.