MONTPELIER — The Med Shed has become a valuable resource across central Vermont for loaned medical equipment and supplies to anyone who can’t afford to pay for them.
Sue and Raymond Toolan have operated The Med Shed as a satellite operation of Wayward Wheels, a nonprofit in Winooski started by Marcella Ryan in 1973. Ryan started collecting serviceable medical equipment to loan out.
By all accounts, it is a small, self-sufficient operation: Ryan is president, Sue Toolan is the vice president, and Ray Toolan is the treasurer and secretary.
For the past 25 years, the Toolans, now both in their 70s, have offered the local service that helps individuals to remain self-sufficient, independent and in their own homes.
This mission of mercy is driven by personal experience, empathy and sympathy for the disadvantaged and less fortunate, and by an energetic embrace of environmentalism, they said.
During a recent visit to their Montpelier home, the Toolans were sitting in their living room, getting ready to pack equipment to be shipped around the globe.
“We have equipment that people have no need for, but people elsewhere would give their lives to get,” Ray Toolan said.
That day, they were working on sending equipment to an international organization, called Project Cure, that ships medical equipment around the world to clinics and emergency shelters in disaster zones.
“We UPS it to Project Cure, which has a warehouse in Pennsylvania, and then they redistribute to clinics in third-world countries, which I believe are in Africa, but also to disaster areas, as well, so nothing gets wasted. The point is, a lot of this stuff is expensive, and people can’t afford it,” he added.
Other countries they have shipped to recently include: Bosnia, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Israel and Guatemala.
A checklist of shipments during the past year showed that the Toolans averaged about 100 shipments a month. The Toolans pay for shipping; the average package costing about $26.
“I did some reasonably good planning before I retired, so we’re debt free and reasonably comfortable, and we can manage it,” Ray Toolan said. “It’s part of being a community — if everybody does a little, we can all do a lot.
“It also keeps the equipment out of the landfill and out of the waste stream,” he added.
The program began as an extension of the work done by Sue Toolan for 20 years as a peer advocate at the Vermont Center for Independent Living in Montpelier. A peer advocate works with people who have disabilities, in order to assist them in finding ways and strategies to remain independent and living in their own homes.
One of the criteria for being an advocate for VCIL is having a disability. Sue Toolan said she suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a disease of the eye where much of the retinas are missing. She also is hearing impaired but uses hearing aids.
Her disability led to a life devoted to helping and caring for others with disabilities, and a home-grown business supporting their physical needs.
The Toolans live in a two-story clapboard house on a steep hill on Sunnyside Terrace near the State House. The Med Shed, painted iridescent emerald green, is located directly behind the home, packed with an assortment of medical equipment and spare parts.
The Toolans have worked tirelessly, collecting, scavenging, rebuilding and recycling medical equipment to keep people mobile, safe and comfortable. The organization also works with state and federal agencies that make referrals.
The Med Shed has motorized hospital beds that would cost $800 new; simple walking canes that can cost $15 to $30; walkers costing $20 to $50; and crutches costing $40 to $50.
Standard wheelchairs can cost as much as $500, and all told, The Med Shed has about 130 wheelchairs. This week, however, few were in the shed that houses them because most of them were out on loan.
Other equipment includes: shower chairs, transfer seating benches and commodes.
The couple also has a range of spare parts for equipment that is damaged or potentially unsafe.
One longtime client that has relied heavily on The Med Shed over the years is Central Vermont Home Health and Hospice.
Kim LaGue is a physical therapist and chief operating officer at CVHHH, where she has worked for 28 years.
“I have recommended patients that have outreached directly to the Toolans on multiple occasions during my time here,” LaGue said. “They provide a wonderful service for our community to borrow the durable medical equipment, which is expensive and not often covered by insurance.
“They usually just need it for a short amount of time and then they can return it. If they want to donate it, we recommend that they connect with Wayward Wheels to donate any equipment that they no longer need because their conditions have improved and they want to provide it for other people who need it,” she added.
Wayward Wheels always is looking for donations of unused medical equipment and supplies.
For more information, contact the Toolans at Wayward Wheels Inc., 1 Sunnyside Terrace, Montpelier VT 05602-2153; by telephone at 229-0093; or by e-mail at email@example.com