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Emergency Services Campaign


Left Behind: Wheelchairs and Mobility Devices Abandoned by EMS

The Problem

  • Chicago’s emergency medical service (EMS) vehicles do not currently have the capacity to lift and safely transport patients’ motorized wheelchairs.
  • As a result, when a patient who uses a motorized wheelchair is transported to the hospital in an emergency, their wheelchair is left behind.
  • It is then the patient’s full responsibility to coordinate transportation of their wheelchair, despite being occupied with seeking immediate medical attention

Have you experienced something like this? We want to hear about it. Tell us your story.

By the numbers

284,883 people with mobility difficulties live in Cook County.

10% (approximately 30,000) use wheelchairs, motorized scooters, or other significant equipment that enables transportation.

Why does this matter?

  • Wheelchairs are considered part of the body for people who use them, and they are delicate equipment that should stay in control of the owner at all times.
  • When separated from their chair or mobility equipment, the patient has no way of leaving the hospital upon discharge.
  • Worrying about the wheelchair being lost, damaged or stolen causes emotional trauma for the patient. Wheelchairs and other mobility equipment are very expensive, difficult to repair, and often customized to the person using them. Loss or damage to this equipment has significant financial and mental ramifications, and can cause further physical injuries, even death.

Who is affected most?

  • People with physical disabilities who use mobility devices such as wheelchairs and walkers, as well as people who use speech equipment.
  • Lower-income patients who have more difficulty affording third-party wheelchair transportation.
  • Seniors with mobility impairments resulting from age.

My scooter is part of who I am.

Shelly Berry, Trumball Park, Chicago

So how do we fix it?

Draw on existing programs

  • The Salt Lake City Fire Department has already successfully tackled this issue and has provided us with their policy
  • Requests may be generated through dispatched incidents, still-alarms, or reasonable public assistance needs
  • Transport of power wheelchairs shall only be made from an incident scene to a hospital, or from a public location to a home or other reasonable destination such as a public transportation access location
  • Take pictures of power wheelchair before and after transport (release waiver application of Salt Lake City Fire Department’s policy may require a few modifications in Chicago due to the differences in population size)

Preventative measures

  • A larger city, such as Chicago, would do better with preventative measures rather than responsive measures; this could be done by preemptively providing those with severe ambulatory disabilities the Power Wheelchair Transport waiver.
  • Furthermore, an addendum to the waiver could be to list emergency contacts on the waiver itself, which would streamline response in cases of emergent transportation.

Modifications to Salt Lake City’s model

  • Waiver
    • Add emergency contacts
    • Proactively collect signatures
    • Transport Policy

Ryan McGraw

Community Organizer – Healthcare


(312) 640-2125

  • Document wheelchair conditions prior to transport

Get involved + Tell your story

To get involved with this campaign, contact Ryan McGraw.

Have you been transported by ambulance/EMS and been forced to leave your assistive device behind?