With the cost of health care always on the rise, many struggle to get the equipment they need. Fortunately for Southern Oklahoma, Medical Equipment Assistance Program, or MEAP, is here to help.

“Basically, we want the community to help the community,” Sara Kerkstra, Executive Director, said. “We act as a sort of middle man between people who have medical equipment they no longer need and the people who are in need of that equipment.”

In other words, MEAP is a valuable resource for people in need of medical equipment. Many of those they help cannot afford the equipment or simply need a particular item for short-term use. Conversely, those with medical equipment they are no longer using can donate those items to MEAP and know they will be put to good use. All the organization asks is that the items be returned when they are no longer needed, and that people tell others about the program.

“We started out in 2007,” Sara said. Her father, Dan Kerkstra, began the organization after he retired from working for a medical equipment company. He installed a bedside commode for a patient, but it was ultimately never used. The patient wanted it taken out, but due to regulations, this type of item cannot be returned after installation. Many would have simply tossed the brand-new equipment into a dumpster, but Kerkstra knew that there was surely someone out there who could use it. This began MEAP’s collection which quickly outgrew the family garage. By 2010 they moved their supplies into a large warehouse, and Sara has been helping out all along the way.

“When I was in college, I used to help write grants,” she said. “I would come home from OU on the weekends and help out as a volunteer,” Kerkstra said. Upon graduation, she worked for AmeriCorps before deciding to join MEAP full-time. After serving as office manager for two years, she became executive director at the beginning of the year.

“My favorite part of my job is just being able to see the people we are helping,” she said. One particular situation involving an elderly gentleman trying to leave a nursing home came to mind.

“His nursing home was having some issues, and his wife was trying to get him home,” Kerkstra said. “They needed a hospital bed and other things, but Medicare wouldn’t pay for the equipment.” MEAP stepped in and was able to provide everything the couple needed. “His health really improved once he got home,” she continued, “and even though he’s now passed, it’s nice to know his last time (at home) was spent happier and healthier.”

While stories like this make running the organization a labor of love, it still comes with difficulties.

“Just getting the amount of things we need is the most challenging aspect of the job,” she said. “People need certain things, but we do not always have them on hand,” she explained. “We’re always looking for more shower chairs, transfer benches, rolling walkers and wheel chairs.” Here is where both local agencies and the public at large really step in.

“We could not do the things we do without grants provided by the United Way of South Central Oklahoma and the Southern Oklahoma Memorial Foundation,” she said. Home healthcare companies are another source of funds and supplies with Ideal Home Healthcare, Aspire Home Health, and Carter Home Health all making regular donations. Another valuable partner is Texas Medical Distributors out of Rockdale, Texas. They have stepped up in a major way.

“They used to ship their excess supplies to China, but the owner wanted to help out more locally,” she said. They heard about the work MEAP was doing and arranged for an entire semi full of supplies to be sent to Ardmore to be distributed. Texas Medical Distributors continues to support the organization, and they are working on sending up a second truckload in the near future. And that future is looking bright.

MEAP currently makes home medical equipment deliveries to those in need within an approximate one hour drive time from Ardmore. They also allow people from outside the delivery zone to come to their warehouse to pick up items. To find out more information about this wonderful community resource check out their Facebook page, Medical Equipment Assistance Program, or drop by their office at 2525 3rd Ave. NE for a brochure.