8 months ago
A Shift in Focus: From Home Modifications to Home Accessibility
By Linda Colsen, Senior Vice President of Product Management, One Call
When it comes to helping injured workers regain independence after suffering a catastrophic injury, historically, the workers’ compensation industry has focused its energy on home modifications – extensive, permanent changes, such as reconfiguring porches and entryways, bathroom modifications, kitchen remodels, and new flooring.
While intended to benefit injured workers dependent on a wheelchair, it's important to note the drawbacks of home modifications. In addition to being costly and time intensive, they often pose other stressful challenges. For instance, sometimes an injured worker’s hospital discharge is delayed because their home is not ready. Other times, construction goes on for months, disrupting the home environment for everyone, especially the injured worker who is trying to recover and regain some semblance of normalcy.
Now tack on the pandemic, and the situation has gotten worse. If you’ve attempted any home improvements over the last year-and-a-half, you’re well aware of the supply chain issues, increased cost of materials, and difficulty obtaining reliable contractors and laborers.
The current environment has made it nearly impossible to complete home modifications within budget and on schedule. For example, lumber prices shot up 171 percent after the start of the pandemic; supply chain problems have stretched the average delivery time for windows ranges from 12 to 22 weeks; and more than four out of five construction firms report hiring challenges.
But the pandemic isn’t all bad. It’s challenged our industry to evolve – to develop better ways of serving injured workers. And it’s with this mindset that we shift our focus from home modifications to home accessibility.
BENEFITS OF HOME ACCESSIBILITY
The goal of home accessibility is to create an accessible, comfortable home for the injured worker without the extensive costs, time, and inconveniences of home modifications. And because the home isn’t being permanently reconfigured, it remains accessible for all able-bodied members of the household and retains its resale value, two important factors often overlooked during the traditional home modification process.
Let’s see how shifting the focus from home modifications to home accessibility plays out in various areas of a home.
- Entryway – Instead of permanently reconfiguring the porch or entry way, ramping systems or vertical platform lifts provide easier, lower cost options
- Doorways – Instead of widening interior doorways, consider the installation of offset hinges and provide the injured worker with a narrow wheelchair to access certain areas of the home
- Kitchen – Instead of a kitchen remodel that includes lowering of countertops and other modifications, consider leaving the kitchen intact and providing the injured worker with a standing frame attached to their wheelchair. If the injured worker is medically cleared for this type of standing support, this solution significantly saves money. The addition of the standing frame components to a wheelchair may cost $5K - $10K compared to the $30K - $80K price tag of a full kitchen remodel
- Bathroom – Instead of permanent wall fixtures, such as grab bars near the toilet, provide portable toilet rails. Portable toilet rails can cost as little as one-tenth the cost of installing permanent handles and can be removed when no longer needed
- Second Floor Access – A stair lift is easy to install and costs a fraction of what an elevator cost
POSITIONING INJURED WORKERS FOR SUCCESS
Home accessibility takes a holistic, patient-centric approach, going beyond an injured worker’s physical needs to consider what’s best for their mental and emotional wellbeing. Just by eliminating lengthy, disruptive home modification projects, it’s possible to position an injured worker for a quicker recovery and a better chance for long-term success. By replacing home modifications with carefully chosen durable medical equipment, injured workers can more quickly regain independence without all the added stress, an attractive proposition for anyone suffering from a life-changing, catastrophic injury.
Home accessibility also takes the family’s needs into consideration, a good reminder that a workplace injury’s impact is felt far beyond the injured worker. Less stress and change for the family means less stress and guilt for the injured worker.
LESS IS MORE
In the case of home accessibility, less really is more. Less costs, labor, supplies, stress, disruption, and change – there are simply too many benefits for everyone involved to overlook this approach. It’s time to make a shift – to stop permanently modifying injured workers’ homes when possible and instead focus our energy on accessibility.