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Walker recycle program funded through St. Charles Foundation mini-grant

The day June Armstrong was getting ready to check out of St. Charles Bend after her total hip replacement, she was given a shiny, new walker to help with her recovery.

Her walker is part of an exchange program on the orthopedic floor at St. Charles Bend where patients are loaned a walker when needed and asked to return it after they have healed.

“It’s a very good idea,” Armstrong said as she prepared to test her walker with a stroll down the hall at the Bend hospital. “It is so difficult to get a hold of them and expensive – especially if you only need one for a short while.”

The inspiration for the walker-recycling program came from caregivers who were discussing how to improve their discharge times for total joint replacement patients, said Karin Thompson, orthopedic nurse navigator at St. Charles Bend.

“At times it was taking more than 30 hours for a social worker to find a walker from local vendors for a patient,” Thompson explained. “We would have patients waiting for hours for a walker before they could go home when that was really all that they needed.”

Thompson did some research and applied to St. Charles Foundation for a $5,000 mini-grant to purchase walkers and trial the recycling program.

“Through the mini-grant program, we fund caregivers who have creative and innovative ideas to benefit patients,” said Lisa Dobey, executive director of St. Charles Foundation. “We are so proud of the ortho team for identifying a problem and coming up with a solution that works.”

After receiving the funds, Thompson worked with departments throughout the health system to get the program up and going. Physical therapists are responsible for identifying patients in need of walkers and handing them out. Volunteers at each campus collect the walkers when they are returned, clean them and get them back to the orthopedic floor to be redistributed.

Since the program began, Thompson said, they’ve had about a 77 percent return rate – which is higher than expected.

“Our return rate is fairly good,” Thompson said. “Patients use these walkers for at least six weeks and sometimes they hang onto them if they know they need to have a second surgery.”

So far, the walkers have gone to nearly every community in Central Oregon including Madras, Terrebonne, Sisters, La Pine, Hines, Sunriver, Lakeview, Seneca, Redmond, Fossil, Klamath Falls, Warm Springs, Prineville, Mitchell and Burns. One was even packaged and mailed back from Jackson Hole, Wyo. Armstrong, who lives in Chiloquin, said she would definitely return the walker when she was finished using it.

“Sometimes at Goodwill you see crutches or walkers and you think, ‘This should have been returned,’” Armstrong said. “Someone could have gotten use out of it.”

To donate a financial gift to programs and services like this one, please contact St. Charles Foundation at 541-706-6996 or