Madison Boggs, 19, was born with cerebral palsy. Over the years, she has needed a variety of medical equipment to help her find and maintain mobility: First, a gait trainer — a wheeled device that assists a person who is unable to walk independently. Then, a power wheelchair. And along the way, items like a wheeled seat, mats for stretching, and a lightweight, portable seat for posture support.
Insurance hasn’t always covered the cost of these necessities, which can run into thousands of dollars. Where Madison’s parents, Dena and Tom, have found help is at Goodwill Home Medical Equipment in Bellmawr, which sells donated, gently used, properly sanitized, and refurbished medical equipment for a fraction of what it would cost new at retail.
The place has been a godsend, said Dena Boggs.
“Special-needs equipment is extremely expensive — sometimes you can’t afford it,” said Boggs, who travels with her family from their home in Springfield, Delaware County, to the Bellmawr facility for the store’s bargains. “I was amazed at the size of the warehouse. It’s full of equipment, very well organized, and has excellent prices.”
Plus, she added, “I am very much a germaphobe, and they thoroughly clean every product that is brought into the facility.”
A walk through the cavernous facility, located an industrial park, bears her out.
Thousands of items are organized by type, including hospital beds, scooters, wheelchairs, and walkers. Unopened soft goods — such as adult diapers and personal care items — have their own big section. Dozens upon dozens of commodes and shower chairs move fast off the floor, snatched up by eager buyers whose insurance companies rarely pay for the items.
And the prices at Goodwill Medical are often 50% below retail. For example:
— An electric scooter runs $500 to $700 (depending on the size of the seat and battery) and comes with a 12-month battery warranty and a 30-day warranty on any refurbished parts. Elsewhere, brand-new models run $1,500.
— A fully electric bed with a new mattress and side-rails costs $525. Elsewhere, a new semi-electric hospital bed costs at least $700 and doesn’t include a mattress or side rails, which can add an additional $245 to the cost.
— Refurbished two-wheeled walkers are $10, compared to new ones elsewhere for $27 to $40.
For customers unable to afford Goodwill’s reduced prices, the store can often subsidize the costs through a state grant whose purpose is to help individuals access assistive technology, said Lynn Tighe, a licensed registered nurse who is vice president of Goodwill Home Medical Equipment.
Statistics suggest that the discounts are needed. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2015 found that 26% of Americans age 18 to 64 struggled to pay medical bills, leading 1 million adults to declare bankruptcy that year.
Perhaps that’s why business is booming at Goodwill Home Medical. In 2018 alone, 8,500 customers visited the Bellmawr store, representing “triple our business since 2012,” said Tighe. Goodwill also donates items to several groups abroad, including the Global Aid Network, a humanitarian relief mission.
Goodwill Home Medical “has been such a nice option for our families and therapists,” said Connie Domingo, medical director at Weisman Children’s Rehabilitation in Marlton. Even when families have insurance, financial obstacles can lead to delays in obtaining devices. But “they need these pieces of equipment right away to be able to go home, or to be more functional and independent in their recovery from rehab.”
The company got into the refurbished home-medical supplies business in 2012 by purchasing Your Resource, a Mercer County, N.J.-based store that offered gently used, donated medical equipment. The concept fit Goodwill’s mission to recycle, reuse, and renew, said Tighe. After setting up shop in several temporary locations, Goodwill moved the retail store to the Bellmawr warehouse in October 2018.
The equipment is donated by individuals, schools, equipment manufacturers, and doctor’s offices. In most cases, donors bring their gently-used items to any Goodwill facility, though the company will also do home pickup of large items like hospital beds, power wheelchairs, and scooters — things too large to fit into standard-size cars.
Tighe is proud that all equipment sold in the store has been sanitized and refurbished according to guidelines established by the Community Health Accreditation Partner (CHAP), which has accredited Goodwill’s processes.
“When you buy anything [secondhand], you need to be concerned with safety and quality control — you never know how old the item is, or how safe,” Tighe said. “We check out all of that before we put anything on the sales floor.”
In addition to the Bellmawr location, Goodwill has 11 retail stores that carry medical equipment throughout Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia. Of the territory’s annual $50 million budget, $1 million is dedicated to the home-health sector.
Eight of the territory’s 900 employees work in the Bellmawr store. Their knowledge and compassion have kept Dena Boggs coming back when Madison needs equipment.
“They will go above and beyond to be helpful,” she said, such as keeping an eye out for equipment Madison needs and calling the family when it comes in. They also offer to carry heavy equipment to the Boggs’ car, for which they are grateful. “As parents, we’re lifting our daughter several times a day, and we lift and move equipment daily.”
For Tighe, that appreciation goes a long way.
“It’s really wonderful to have a young child come in” — who has been struggling to get off all-fours — “and to be able to sell the family a gait trainer,” she said. “We have moms just crying, because now their children can walk.”