Throughout her more than ten years of experience as an occupational therapy assistant in the Tampa Bay area, Kelli Casto experienced firsthand the high number of seniors that were forced to go without the necessary medical equipment to maintain independence at home and optimal health. This was caused by financial hardships, lack of availability, long wait lists, and denial of funding from Medicare. Lack of necessary medical equipment leads to a much higher risk of readmittance into hospitals and rehab centers. Frustrated by the healthcare system’s inefficiencies and lack of proper support for underserved and low-income seniors, Ms. Casto founded Saving Our Seniors (“SOS” or the “Organization”) in 2016 in her one bedroom apartment.
SOS’s founder began collecting gently used medical equipment in her apartment and within six months, the space could no longer accommodate the amount of collected equipment. Ms. Casto moved all the equipment to a garage, then a storage unit, and currently all equipment is housed in a donated 2,500 sq. ft. warehouse. In 2016, Saving our Seniors became a 501(c)(3) organization and to-date, has serviced up to 1,500 seniors in Tampa Bay and collected nearly 3,000 pieces of gently used medical equipment.
The urgent need for the services provided by SOS is evident within the increasing senior population in the Tampa Bay area, with over 50% of the residents over age 60. Of those, approximately 28% are living below the poverty line with 16% living 125% below the poverty line. Many of these seniors live on their own and are solely dependent on disability benefits or government assistance for income. With an income as low as $800 per month to be used for rent and other necessities, there can be as little as $50 per month that is available to purchase medical equipment.
The items needed most are shower chairs, powered wheel chairs, walkers, hospital beds, and incontinent supplies, most of which are well above the $50 threshold. Medicare only covers three necessary pieces of medical equipment every five years.
Since inception, SOS receives an average of 45 calls per day from seniors who are struggling to receive necessary medical equipment. Each week, over thirty pieces of medical equipment are delivered throughout the surrounding counties. To date, over 3,000 pieces of equipment have been delivered to 1,500 seniors in Pinellas, Manatee, Pasco, Sarasota and Hillsborough counties within the Tampa Bay area.
Other service providers that offer assistance to seniors have extremely long wait lists. SOS understands the urgent need and maintains a no wait policy with all equipment being delivered within seven days of the initial request. If the equipment is not in the current inventory, SOS will purchase it up to $200. Nearly all of the equipment is transported personally by Ms. Casto as SOS operates on a limited budget and is unable to hire additional staff.