Hospital Equipment Library plans move to Richland
A Pasco nonprofit that lends medical equipment, including wheelchairs, hospital beds, crutches and more, is preparing to turn a vacant site near a busy Richland intersection into its new hub.
The Knights Community Hospital Equipment Loan Program, or KC Help, plans to develop its new headquarters and commercial self-storage facility on five acres at the corner of Van Giesen Street and the bypass highway.
The $2.8 million vision includes a storage business to provide revenue to support KC Help’s mission to provide hospital equipment to patients who would otherwise go without.
The property is owned by the Knights of Columbus, who established KC Help in 1998 to fill gaps in insurance, Medicare and Medicaid coverage. Tri-Citians who need crutches, canes, wheelchairs, bath stools, toilet risers, walkers and other aids, but are not eligible to have them covered, have counted on it for years.
In the years before the pandemic, it served about 2,500 patients a year.
Demand dropped in 2020 to around 2,200, but has been rising since then.
Wheelchairs – standard and electric – are its most popular offering, with 528 supplied in 2021. Bath stools, canes and crutches are also popular items, but its inventory also includes lift chairs, transfer poles and more.
Customers are concentrated in the Tri-Cities, but come from as far away as Idaho, eastern Oregon, western Washington and, in one case, Alaska.
Jerry Rhoads, a retired electrical engineer who founded KC Help, said the 5,300-square-foot facility near Pasco City Hall that she calls home isn’t big enough to accommodate demand that is not just growing but evolving, courtesy of the covid19 pandemic.
It will retain the Pasco Center as a distribution facility and light repair shop. A Premera grant helped add interior space.
Rhoads once thought — and hoped — that the American Care Act would reduce the need for the loan program to fill gaps in health care equipment needs. It’s the opposite, he says.
Over the years, Medicare and Medicaid have tightened eligibility criteria for items such as wheelchairs. Private insurers have followed their example. KC Help has always sought to fill a gap. Instead of narrowing, the gap widened
The Covid-19 pandemic is also changing demand. Patients who could have been hospitalized are cared for at home. This has led to an increase in requests for hospital beds – nearly 150 in 2021.
The problem is compounded by the surging waves of Covid infections.
“Every time a new variant pops up, our bed inventory goes down. And when it passes, it goes back up,” said Rhoads, who likes to think it’s because users have recovered and no longer need the beds.
This creates a storage challenge. The Pasco facility struggles to manage increasing and decreasing inventory.
“Expenses have gone up and space has gone down,” he said.
Redevelopment of the site wasn’t profitable, so the KC Help team at Rhoads started thinking about the 10 acres the Columbia Knights own at 2500 Chester St. in Richland, where they operate a social club and bingo hall. at one end. The Knights will donate each other’s land, facing Van Giesen.
The property is visible from both Van Giesen and the bypass highway, across the railway lines belonging to the Port of Benton.
The fraternal organization lost its direct access to the bypass when the road was widened but retained the right to lay a driveway on Van Giesen.
Rhoads spoke with the city and secured financial support for the Richland project from the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities and the Three Rivers Community Foundation. The driveway will enter at the west end of the Knights property.
The property is serviced by city water. But the sewer lines stop on the other side of Van Giesen near the Columbia Basin Racquet Club.
Rhoads said the city supports the plans. He expects site plans to be approved around March. He won’t launch a fundraising campaign until the permits are in hand, but several supporters have already sweetened the pot with more than $100,000 in donations and another $100,000 in pledges.
The plan includes two buildings totaling 16,000 square feet to serve as offices and other facilities for KC Help.
The self-storage facility will have 250 or more units, a storage yard for boats and RVs, and will be self-managed by KC Help, with great help from technology. The site has room to grow. The committee includes storage industry experts, who note that the region is underserved for mini-storage.
The for-profit venture is an innovative approach, designed to bring in money and reduce KC Help’s reliance on fundraising to support its mission. He spent about $101,000 in 2021, Rhoads said.
Rhoads cites Columbia Industries as inspiration. Columbia Industries, a Kennewick nonprofit serving Tri-Citians with developmental disabilities, has purchased several for-profit businesses, including Round Table Pizza, not only to raise funds, but also to provide an outlet for its clients.