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Wheelchair permits late in borough

Parents, equipment vendors and interest groups for the disabled all attended the meeting, recounted their difficulties and offered ideas for the alleviation of the problem.According to Charles Hope of the Queens Council for Developmental Disabilities, 22 people formerly worked in the office. After the elimination of the New York City branch and its subsequent move to Albany, nine people have been handling all of the state's Medicaid wheelchair claims."It has increased waits and it has decreased safety and quality of life for those affected," Hope said. "I would say there are thousands of people waiting for an apparatus or repair of their apparatus."In Marshall's opening remarks she cited the relocation of state facilities to upstate sites in an effort to help the weak upstate economy with more state government jobs."We have seen significant delays in authorizations and an increase in rejections," Marshall said. "This should not be tolerated. DME (durable medical equipment) is not a luxury, it is a necessity."Prior to the move, all claims would be answered and accessed within three to five weeks. Now, according to those present at the hearing, notification could take anywhere from five to 15 weeks. "More paperwork, more complications, more time," said Doris Seligman, co-chairwoman of the Borough President's Advisory Council. "Service delays are typical and scary. There is no accountability on anyone's part."Nicole Cusumano, an occupational therapist with YAI/National Institute for People with Disabilities, spoke about one of her patients, a young girl who needs a molded seat and back cushion for her wheelchair. After waiting months for repairs on the aging chair, the girl has slowly become more deformed and, according to Cusumano, her condition can potentially lead to death."There's a lack of sensitivity," said Linda Pedreira, one of the parents in attendance. "Why do I have to keep explaining why my son needs a wheelchair?""I don't know if it's a cost containment effort by the state, but it just doesn't' make sense. They haven't looked at it, they are just saying this is how it is," Hope said. "We've talked to vendors we've talked to pharmacies and they say to us we don't want to sell DME because our customers are looking at us like we're the problem."According to Bill Mantell, a pharmacist at Variety Drugs in Jamaica, many vendors who exclusively handled durable medical equipment (wheelchairs, walkers, scooters, etc.) have gone out of business because they could not survive the length of time it now takes for Medicaid to process claims. "What we're dealing with is a comedy of errors," Gerald Davanzo of C & D Drug Corporation said. Davanzo added that many problems were caused when the downstate records were "lost" on the move to the Albany office. Several different methods of easing the problem were proposed, including electronic filing with the Medicaid office, E-mail notification of either authorization or rejection, and a joint effort between all five borough presidents and the mayor to bring the problem to the attention of Gov. George Pataki and Department of Health Commissioner and former U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novello. Marshall pledged to further investigate the matter, to bring Queens legislators together in Albany and if forced, to take the problem to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. "It's a Queens effort, but it is absolutely for everybody in New York," Hope said.

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