By Lawrence D. Weiss
For Senior Voice 

"The case of the ignorant caregiver"

Access Alaska's loan closet, other services, are a godsend


February 1, 2019

Courtesy Access Alaska

Karl Eklund, left, Durable Medical Equipment specialist, and Frank Box, DME Manager, work in the Access Alaska equipment loan closet in Anchorage.

Perhaps I have been reading too much Sherlock Holmes (again!), but I couldn't resist thinking about this article as "The Case of the Ignorant Caregiver." It could also be titled "How I Discovered Access Alaska," a wonderful non-profit with several offices around the state. Here's what happened.

A few years ago my wife, Christy, was told that she would eventually need surgery to correct several problems affecting her right foot. That day finally arrived and she had surgery mid-December, 2018. Christy was told she would not be able to put any weight on the foot for two months, after which time she would have physical therapy and slowly build up to being able to walk again.

In the weeks before her surgery it began to dawn on me that I was going to be her caregiver, but I had no training, no experience, and no clue. How would she get from the car to the front door? How would she get up the interior stairs of our split-level home? How would she get up from our low furniture, or use our disability-unfriendly bathroom?

A couple of weeks before Christy's surgery I tried to find some local Anchorage program that would teach me caregiving basics. No luck. I called the doctor's office and asked them for advice. They said she would be given a pair of crutches two days before surgery, and a "prescription" for a knee scooter. I had lots of other questions. I was advised to do a search on YouTube. Really.

My wife is a calm sort of person and figured it would all work out. I am not a calm sort of person and pretty much freaked out. I started calling friends and colleagues so I could vent, whine and ask advice. One friend gave us a kind of meta-toilet that raises the toilet seat and gives it handles on both sides, like an office chair. Ok, now we were getting somewhere.

Another friend is a retired carpenter. He came over and built risers for two of the three living room couches. He cut sheets of plywood to fit under the couch pillows to add firmness. Now this furniture could be used by a person with only one good leg. Making progress!

Two days before the surgery the doctor's office gave Christy a pair of crutches which, as it turned out, she was not able to master. The health insurance company paid for a knee scooter rental, but it was unavailable until several days after her surgery due to inscrutable paperwork issues. Christy was calm, but focused on the imminent surgery. I was feeling desperate, even angry because I was still an ignorant caregiver without proper equipment.

About this time a friend suggested I visit Access Alaska to see if they could help. That's when I discovered the "loan closet" and the wonderful people that staff it. In their own words, "Access Alaska is a private, non-profit, consumer-controlled organization that provides independent living services to people who experience a disability."

I described my plight to the receptionist at the front desk. He advised me to talk to the guys in the loan closet. "Loan closet" is a misnomer because the space is quite large, maybe the size of a garage. It is packed full of all kinds of tools, equipment and supplies that might help a disabled person and/or a caregiver.

After assessing my situation, they recommended I take a walker, a reach extender, transfer belts and a set of furniture risers. All of it was like-new. I filled out a short form with contact information, and that was it. It's a loan, very much like borrowing a library book. I was so relieved to get the advice and the free equipment, I offered a donation. They gratefully accepted because that's how they survive as a non-profit. I returned several times for additional equipment including a wheelchair, a portable wheelchair ramp, a shower chair and a portable toilet seat riser.

Apart from the loan closet, Access Alaska offers a range of other services such as:

information and referral

independent living skills training

peer counseling

individual and systems advocacy

deinstitutionalization or nursing home transition

personal care assistant services

home modifications

Outside of Anchorage, Access Alaska also has offices in Fairbanks, Kenai and Mat-Su. For additional information call 907-248-4777, or visit their website:

The Independent Living Center is a similar non-profit organization that serves the Kenai Peninsula, Valdez/Cordova Census area communities and Kodiak Island. Call them at 907-262-6333 to find out more, or visit their website at

Finally, and most importantly to me, Christy is doing just fine.

Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.

Author Bio

Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.


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