Wheelchair Thefts From Waikato Hospital
Health Waikato has been forced to buy 69 new wheelchairs at a cost of $280 each because more than 50 at Waikato Hospital have been stolen or damaged.
In recent times wheelchairs have been found ruined at a local skateboard bowl, in the Waikato River and in one case a chair was being used to deliver advertising pamphlets.
Health Waikato chief operating officer Jan Adams said wheelchairs were being stolen or taken home by patients who failed to return them. Some were so damaged when they returned that they were only good for scrap.
"Other equipment also goes missing including crutches, linen, blankets, tissues, towels, flip charts - anything that isn't bolted down basically.
"We have a replacement budget but clearly it is frustrating for us to have to replace items desperately needed by patients.
"We urge the public to help us. When wheelchairs, crutches, towels etc are taken or stolen from the hospital the cost is borne by the taxpayers. We are as vigilant as we can be but the reality is we are here to look after the health needs of our population," said Mrs Adams.
Wheelchairs at Health Waikato are managed in three areas - the orderlies for inpatient transport, acute occupational therapy for inpatient and short term loan rehab and Community Equipment Stores for wheelchairs in the community which are lent for up to six months.
"Replacement chairs have to be bought through minor capital expenditure which is a very limited budget and is shared by several areas. Repairs and maintenance come from Health Waikato's standard budget."
Health Waikato is Waikato District Health Board's hospital and health services provider arm with responsibility for Waikato, Thames, Tokoroa, Te Kuiti and Taumarunui hospitals; continuing care and maternity facilities in Morrinsville and Te Awamutu and an acute mental health facility in Hamilton.
"We have also had to hire in wheelchairs to meet patients' needs when we have run out of chairs. We have also approached charitable trusts to fund children's chairs," she said.
"We budget $20,000 to $25,000 every two to three years to replace obsoletes wheelchairs or extend the fleet."
The last significant purchase was in May 2005 when Health Waikato bought 20 wheelchairs at $1155 each.
Health Waikato manager attendant services Steve Coles said it was decided to buy a more cost effective wheelchair this time because of the number going missing.
In the past three years, Health Waikato had spent more than $5200 on wheelchair maintenance.
"From our stock of chairs we do not allow them to leave campus, but this still happens and is very difficult to stop.
"Not all of the chairs will be put into use at once. We will be monitoring them and only putting more on the floor when required."
Last week a search was done on the Waikato Hospital campus and only 12 missing chairs were found.
"We have previously put out an amnesty to try and retrieve chairs, but have had minimal response. We do receive, on occasion, calls from the public that have found chairs for us to pick up," said Mr Coles.
Linda Shaw, team leader Health Waikato occupational therapy said they had 20 wheelchairs; five were missing. About half the stock was due for replacement.
"We mainly use our wheelchairs for inpatients both on the acute wards and rehabilitation. "
Paediatric wheelchairs are lent to patients for up to three months in the community. There is no fee to borrow a wheelchair but Health Waikato charges the client full replacement cost if the chair is not returned or is returned so damaged it can't be repaired. A standard wheelchair costs $1057.50 plus freight.
"We also have to buy extras like elevating leg rests @$245.00 each and stump supports @ $140.00. Paediatric wheelchairs cost $2500.
"The wheelchairs go missing because people forget to return the chair or lend them to another person. We track our chairs but have found that some people move frequently so that we can't find them to get the wheelchair or other equipment back," she said.