High turnover and rotation of rehabilitation staff at hospitals is endangering disabled patients. The requisite skill and knowledge to issue an appropriate wheelchair is constantly being lost, says Erika Geerthsen, Occupational Therapist at CE Mobility, a leading local mobility aid manufacturer and supplier.
CE Mobility’s therapists provide extensive counselling and training to public and private institutions. They find the lack of continuity is most prevalent in state hospitals.
“Individuals tasked with issuing wheelchairs are usually community service therapists and get rotated to new positions or move onto other employment once they qualify, leaving a serious skills shortage in their wake. CE Mobility faces an ongoing battle to ensure that hospital employees are correctly trained, so that these skills are retained or at least mentored to new interns. Correctly measuring and seating a patient for a wheelchair is crucial and if done incorrectly can have dire, even life threatening consequences,” explains Erika.
“There is an ongoing need for training in this field but most state hospitals simply do not have the budgets or capacity. A wheelchair is not just wheelchair – it requires specialist knowledge of each person’s unique requirements. It must complement the patient’s abilities and support the disabilities. Incorrect seating will only disable them further, perhaps result in serious deformities, organ damage and eventually, even death. For example, a child in a wheelchair that is too big will end up with spinal deformities as they sag down into the chair to try and find a stable position. This in turn puts strain on the lungs, heart and various other internal organs and causes a multitude of avoidable complications,” explains Erika.
CE Mobility recently attended to a heartbreaking case where a 12-year boy was incorrectly seated in a wheelchair. By the time they were called in to assist by the nursing staff, the child had already suffered extensive spinal deformities and respiratory damage, leaving his entire system compromised. Despite pulling out all the measures to prevent further damage and securing a new and appropriate wheelchair for his needs, the child passed away as a result of complications.
“These cases are avoidable yet they happen more often than we realise. Fitting patients with an appropriate wheelchair is crucial to improving their function and independence. It can make the difference between being a capable, independent person to being dependent on a care giver’s assistance. A client’s diagnosis often guides the selection, but customisation to their unique needs is essential and this takes specialist knowledge and years of experience, something that is sorely lacking in most state hospitals which many thousands of South Africa’s disabled community rely on for assistance,” says Erika.