In the 1940s and 1950s, polio was at its peak in the United States. Lloyd Hanna remembers it well because, as a young man, he had a bout with the disease. And like many Americans, he might not have been able to beat it on his own.
“If the March of Dimes hadn’t helped my folks, I wouldn’t have ended up as good as I did,” Hanna remembers.
Gratitude for the efforts of an organization dedicated to population health helped shape Hanna’s relationship with both volunteerism and the health care space.
After his retirement, Hanna had more time to dedicate to his community. In 2011, he caught an ABC News story by Diane Sawyer that profiled the Medical Loan Closet of Henderson County, North Carolina, an organization dedicated to giving impoverished community members access to loaner medical equipment. After making contact with the organizers of the program, an Episcopal Church group in Hendersonville, North Carolina, Hanna was off and running with a template for his own version of the medical loan closet, which he established in Wichita, Kansas.
“In Suffolk County, there’s 55,000 people who have no insurance,” Hanna said. “Kansas has 180,000. All we’re trying to do is connect people up. If you bring it down and say, ‘Donate it,’ we’re going to give it to people who need it.”
The organization is staffed fully by volunteers, and its inventory comes from community donations. Customers need only walk through the door to be served. There is very little money exchanged – a nominal $5 to $20 is collected to help sustain the operation – no insurance necessary, nor any prescriptions or vouchers needed in order to browse the inventory. Goods are available for short- or long-term loans, and borrowers agree to maintain them in good condition without damaging or defacing them. Simply put, Hanna said, “If you need it, you can have it.”
“I have become the polite, casual reference for all the people in town [who need medical equipment],” he said.
The Wichita Medical Loan Closet started out in Hanna’s garage about four years ago. His truck was the warehouse, and its cab, the office. After the garage became overfull with donations, he found a satellite location in an old school building that was his to use for the price of cleaning it out. When that property was eventually condemned, Hanna stumbled onto a former putt-putt course that had been shuttered for being in the flight path of a local Air Force base. Today, 20-some-odd program volunteers organize an inventory of medical equipment that supplies needy patients from throughout the region.
The diversity of equipment on hand in the warehouse ranges from durable gear, like medical beds, wheelchairs, and lifts, all the way to a collection of soft goods that Hanna said rivals that of the nearby Walmart. Ostomy supplies, CPAP machines, knee and elbow braces; all donated, all recirculated in the community.
“We bring it in, clean it up, fix it up, get what parts we need,” Hanna said.
His technicians are also volunteers. Retired Subway manager Ed Morra handles the electric beds. Another two men, one a former uranium miner, the other a horse trainer, oversee repairs on the electric wheelchairs, putting in extra time on top of the six-day-a-week, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. hours of operation at the Medical Loan Closet.
“It’s a low-level recruitment,” Hanna said. “If we had more people, we’d be open more hours. [Our volunteers] all say, without reservation, that they all feel better when they leave because they’ve helped somebody.”
Having grown the Wichita Medical Loan Closet to its current size, Hanna is now focused on supporting other spinoffs under the spirit of the original charter. Much like the Medical Loan Closet of Henderson County set him on his current course, he has helped like-minded volunteers establish similar operations in the cities of Winfield, Pratt, Dodge City, Garden City, and Hutchinson. Using a draft of the lending contract he created for the Wichita Medical Loan Closet and a surplus of equipment from its warehouse, Hanna said he was able to help provide the barest essentials for satellite groups to follow the same lead he did.
“It’s been very word of mouth,” Hanna said. “We have created a model where I could send you a list of who you should talk to. I could drop into a town, and before the day’s over, I could at least have the framework.”
Hanna’s even collected so much surplus medical equipment that he’s been able to fill three shipping containers with supplies for organizations that conduct medical missions. The donations come from all kinds of sources, including family members who’ve lost loved ones whose health care devices remain in good working order. Most are glad that the technology will continue to serve another person who needs it; others have found the act of donating the equipment is a way of creating a connection that sustains the legacy of their late relative.”
“If your parents pass and you have all this stuff, you find a place for it,” Hanna said. “We had a lady bring in some really specialized children’s stuff last week. She wants us to call her when whoever gets this so she can come tell them her story.”
Stories like that are part of Hanna’s role with the Medical Loan Closet; so much so that his title has evolved from “Founder” to “Executive Director” to “Ambassador and Storyteller.” He recollected one of his favorites, a tale about a senior citizen whose walker was so outdated that it wasn’t designed with wheels to ease her stride.
“She came in, ‘clunk, clunk, clunk,’ ” Hanna said. “We got her a walker with wheels, and I put slides on the back. She stood there and rolled that back and forth.
“When you can see a lady smile who’s 90 years old, that’s why we do this,” he said.