A Wheel It Forward volunteer helps manage inventory. Wheel It Forward provides mentoring, job training, and internship opportunities to volunteers from Abilis, an organization that helps people with disabilities from birth through adulthood.

January 31, 2022

Launching a New Kind of Library for Medical Equipment

On a November day in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, a new mom in Fairfield County, Connecticut was stuck in the hospital.  She had recently given birth and suffered from temporary paralysis on one side of her body. She and her newborn baby could not be discharged without a power wheelchair, which was unavailable at the hospital due to supply chain issues.  She faced the choice: stay at the hospital until a wheelchair could be found, or purchase a brand-new wheelchair out of pocket for thousands of dollars.  Luckily, a savvy hospital discharge planner contacted Wheel It Forward, one of FJC’s fiscally sponsored projects.  That afternoon, a Wheel It Forward volunteer delivered a power wheelchair, a ramp, and a hemi-walker to the new mother’s home at no cost.

Wheel It Forward is a volunteer-run nonprofit that operates a lending “library” that coordinates the lending and borrowing of donated durable medical equipment (DME) in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Donated equipment includes wheelchairs and ramps, hospital beds, crutches, walkers, and many others. The organization closes the gap between the cost and durability of DME relative to the often brief, urgent needs for them.  The average piece of DME has a usable life span of over five years but is typically used for only four months, a hugely inefficient dynamic that results in unmet need and significant waste. In their first year, Wheel It Forward has worked with a team of almost 100 volunteers to save library members tens of thousands of dollars and to prevent over 34,000 pounds of equipment from ending up in landfills.

“We’re lending out $2,000 worth of equipment every day, including weekends. Once we are past this start-up stage we look forward to spreading this new kind of library to other communities across America.”

The organization was inspired by an eighth-grade trip to Israel that founder Elliot Sloyer took as a chaperone.  There Sloyer encountered Yad Sarah, an Israeli nonprofit founded on a similar model in 1976 that now has 120 branches in Israeli cities, development towns, and Arab villages across the country.  Yad Sarah’s services and activities save the Israeli economy some $320 million each year in healthcare costs and hospital fees. Impressed and inspired by Yad Sarah’s impact, Elliot researched similar resources in the US. Though they exist, there are not enough to meaningfully recirculate lightly used DME or to reduce the financial burden DME can create for families.

Wheel It Forward’s long-term plan is to replicate across other communities in the United States. By teaching inventory management and best practices for operating a library, Wheel It Forward plans to amplify their already significant impact. They are also developing a national database of DME lending libraries in the United States to highlight where opportunities exist to donate and borrow DME locally. Sloyer notes that the organization has made significant strides in its first year, despite launching operations during the pandemic.  “We’re lending out $2,000 worth of equipment every day, including weekends,” he says. “Once we are past this start-up stage we look forward to spreading this new kind of library to other communities across America.”

Coming from the hedge fund industry, Sloyer is mindful of keeping his organization lean and efficient as it scales.  “From an economics perspective, fiscal sponsorship at FJC is a no brainer,” he says, comparing FJC’s scaled operational platform to prime brokerage services in the financial industry. As part of FJC’s Fiscal Sponsorship Program, Wheel It Forward can focus on expanding their operations while FJC handles the administrative operations of processing tax-deductible contributions and paying vendors.  In addition to DME donations, the organization’s business model relies on suggested donations from participants and other forms of fundraising. 

If you live in Fairfield County and would like to donate or borrow durable medical equipment, click here. To make a monetary donation to support the mission and growth of Wheel It Forward, click here