Advocacy group sounding alarm on ‘extreme’ wait times for specialized mobility aids in Alberta

A newly formed advocacy group called Wheels of Change is sounding the alarm on Albertans with spinal cord injuries having to wait extreme periods of time to receive specialized wheelchairs and equipment under a government program called Alberta Aids to Daily Living (AADL).

“To me, these are my legs, this helps me move from point A to point B. It keeps me efficient, keeps me active, keeps me independent,” said Benveet Gill, community outreach liaison for Wheels of Change.

“So, to me it’s not a hindrance; it’s a necessity and a lot of people feel the same way I do.

“It is really important that you have a proper fitting wheelchair and that you get it in a timely manner,” Gill added.

The group says people are waiting several months — even a year — for equipment that is essential to their mobility, and a backlog of paperwork is causing much of the delay.

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Calgary wheelchair user immobilized by snow piles

<span class="c-caption__desc">Calgary wheelchair user immobilized by snow piles Dec 28, 2020</span><br />

Gill goes on to say the group would like to see some red tape reduction to significantly reduce extensive wait times.

The advocacy group says AADL has been neglected by Alberta governments for years, adding “the administration of the program has become rigid and inflexible.”

It also says the operations through AADL are “outdated and archaic,” causing much frustration.

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Additionally, the longer it takes to receive mobility aids, the greater the chance of developing secondary health complications.

“By medical complications, I mean urinary tract infections, skin problems like wounds, [can] happen, of course psychological mental health issues,” explained Dr. Adalberto Loyola-Sanchez, associate professor at the University of Lethbridge and member of the Spinal Cord Injury program at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton.

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Loyola-Sanchez says some patients can’t leave their homes for months because they don’t have the right equipment for their mobility needs.

“Waiting months or even up to a year to have access to the support and equipment we need to carry on with our lives, because our files are sitting on a desk somewhere, is cruel and inhumane,” said Steve Crochetiere, director of Wheels of Change, in a news release.

“This isn’t about the government spending more money; it’s about updating this inefficient system and administering the program in a more timely and efficient manner.”

The Lending Cupboard charity in Red Deer makes short-term equipment loans to people waiting to get their mobility aids from the AADL program and says it’s now making longer loans due to the delay.

“We are there to fill that gap and to support people while they wait, and in many cases that is a longer period of time than what we usually would expect. But our mission and mandate is to remove those barriers to access to equipment,” said Dawna Morey, executive director with the Lending Cupboard.

“At no time, would we ever take equipment away from people while they’re waiting, but certainly there are times when they don’t qualify for [AADL],” Morey adds.

She says that can put additional pressure on the charity and its inventory, negatively impacting its ability to continue to support those individuals.

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Both Wheels of Change and the Lending Cupboard say they’ve had little to no communication from Minister of Health Tyler Shandro, which the official Opposition says is unacceptable, especially when it comes to one of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society.

“You’re essentially trapping people,” said NDP MLA Marie Renaud, Community & Social Services Critic. “You’re taking away their mobility, their ability to engage in life and it’s just so wrong.”

Renaud says the NDP wants immediate action from the UCP government, not just “pleasing” words.

The ministry of health says it’s committed to improving access to equipment and supplies provided by AADL, but did not provide any specifics.

The ministry adds it will be releasing more information in the coming weeks.

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