published Monday, March 7th, 2011

Fuller’s demise frustrates wheelchair users


by Emily Bregel

ABOUT THE COMPANY

Ringgold, Ga.-based Fuller Rehabilitation Independent Living Aids, with seven locations in five states, employed about 80 people and provided power wheelchairs and other mobility equipment.

Eleanor Bryan didn’t have any warning last month that the company repairing her husband’s wheelchair was going out of business.

“I just happened to see it on the news,” Bryan said.

Ever since Ringgold, Ga.-based Fuller Rehabilitation closed, the couple has struggled for answers on how to get back Paul Bryan’s wheelchair, which had been taken to Fuller for repairs months earlier.

Paul Bryan, who was paralyzed nine years ago, has been using a loaner chair, but it’s starting to break down, too, said his wife. She hasn’t been able to reach anyone with the durable medical equipment company, and nobody has contacted her about the chairs, she said.

The Bryans are among thousands of Fuller Rehab customers left in the lurch when the family-owned company abruptly shut its doors and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February.

But answers are on the way, say Fuller officials, who admit they haven’t tried to contact their former customers yet.

Brent Beasley, former compliance officer for Fuller, said owners Mike and Leila Fuller are working with a company interested in buying their mobility equipment, and that company will contact patients if the deal goes through.

“We have been working feverishly behind the scenes to find a resolution, and we are very close,” Beasley said in an e-mail. He is the Fullers’ son-in-law.

“In the end the patient will have an option to have their equipment serviced by the new company or they can pick it up themselves at the Ringgold office,” he said.

About 80 workers lost their jobs when Fuller went out of business. The company was deep in debt and struggling, but the final straw was a change in Medicare rules that would have delayed reimbursements for months, Mike Fuller said at the time.

The Medicare rule requires that the company rent, rather than sell, its equipment, which included power wheelchairs and scooters.

Fuller Rehab couldn’t repay its debt while awaiting payments for rented equipment, Mike Fuller said.

After the company closed, laid-off employees were shocked when their final paychecks were retroactively removed from their bank accounts, leading many to inadvertently overdraw their accounts.

But those paychecks since have since restored, Beasley said.

“I haven’t received a call from a former employee concerning the check issue in three weeks, so I believe it has been resolved,” he said.

about Emily Bregel...

Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...

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