Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman

Congregation Kehillah Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman

Congregation Kehillah’s Helping Hearts and Hands Committee recently started a program to help congregants share previously owned medical equipment.

Described as a matching service, the congregation doesn’t actually store the equipment on premises, but instead acts as an intermediary, connecting those with needs to durable medical equipment. The equipment is typically loaned, not donated, for limited periods of time.

The idea for the program was first suggested by congregant Ellen Lerman approximately six months ago, said Ilene Riffle, a fellow Kehillah congregant who is one of three co-chairs of the committee. Lerman approached the committee and explained that she had a number of old supplies and was interested in putting them to use helping others.

“It was generally the same situations with her as with me,” Riffle said. “My parents had two wheelchairs, a transport chair, a shower chair — all these things that were in my garage just sitting there — and we thought it was a really good idea if they could be out and available to people.”

The committee assists the rabbi with home and hospital visits, coordinates the delivery of meals to sick and infirm congregants and helps ensure families who have lost loved ones can make minyans for their shiva observances. The committee was started at the behest of Congregation Kehillah Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman.

“The word ‘kehillah’ means ‘community’ and we’re really looking at how you build community connections between people,” Sharfman said. “We sat down and we talked about how we can both identify needs within the community and fill some of those needs and feel good about our work.”

Sharfman said the need for short-term medical equipment came up repeatedly.

“The equipment can be very expensive,” Sharfman explained. “People have different types of insurance or no insurance at all, and then we’ve got folks who are holding onto items of this nature who don’t need them anymore.”

Since November, the committee has inventoried a range of durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs, canes, travel chairs, shower chairs, walkers, toilet chairs, cast boots and crutches. Riffle said one person recently borrowed a wheelchair for her visiting son, while another needed two wheelchairs to accommodate guests for a wedding.

Another benefit of the program is reducing waste. A 2017 ProPublica article estimated that health care providers throw away thousands of dollars in old medical equipment and supplies. The National Academy of Medicine estimated that in 2012 the U.S. health care system wasted roughly $765 million annually, a significant portion of which was due to throwing away perfectly good equipment.

Although the program is still in its infancy and currently only accepts and loans equipment to congregation members, Riffle said she expects it to grow in time, and perhaps other congregations could adopt the model, as well.

“I know that there’s still a lot of people that haven’t contacted me, so I’m hoping after the holidays that the list will get bigger,” Riffle said. JN