The numbers of amputees needing rehabilitation, prosthetics, and peer support is increasing. Of particular interest are adults losing limbs due to vascular insufficiency, infections, and problems related to diabetes. Due to unemployment and reduction of benefits, many adults lack insurance and resources to return to optimal functioning after losing a limb. Our U.S. healthcare system is not coping well, and support, educational, and outreach organizations are not keeping up with the need.
I frequently get calls from amputees and agencies looking for information and peer support. Despite the existence of national organizations like the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA), many are not in contact with peer support, others lack funding for memberships and meetings, and finally many local groups have fallen apart due to lack of support and burnout of leadership and volunteers.
This feedback is frustrating and depressing. I understand that there are a number of reasons for this including challenges of networking and supporting local organizations, inadequate funding on many levels, maintaining well trained volunteers, and implementing quality controls regarding services provided and user satisfaction. Still, with peer support and education, such an important element in the restoration of a person to full life following an amputation, it is hard to accept the fact that this support is so little available.
Some of the organizations that do exist are not adequately trained for peer counseling or have adequate referral systems in place. In addition, the ACA is not at all well known across the United States, so the vast majority of people undergoing amputations never hear that such an organization exists or that a local organization is available to them.
Due to the growth of prosthetics and rehabilitation programs across the country, this should not be occurring. These facilities and practices could help provide the nucleus of experienced, recovered amputees who could provide peer support. With the help of the practitioners and therapists, referrals could be made to the group, facilities for meetings provided, educational materials made available, and continuity assured. I realize that there are those practitioners and therapists who would use such a forum to try to recruit clients, but this is both unethical and short-sighted. In the long run, educated and empowered amputees will demand more and better prosthetic care and rehabilitation. This should make the prosthetic and therapy practices both more lucrative and more intellectually rewarding.
This lack of local peer support and educational organizations are very serious impediments to adequate restoration of amputees to optimum life.
In my next blog, I will further discuss ideas for helping remedy this situation.