‘Liberty Cart’ makes life easier for Vets

DAR dignitaries and Veterans Hospital representatives join George Gentry (center) for a ride in the new Liberty Cart donated by the DAR.

liberty-cart.jpgBy Nick Diamantides
Staff Writer

Patients who use wheelchairs now have an easier way of getting around on the campus of Long Beach Veterans Medical Center, thanks to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The local hospital was the latest facility to receive a “Liberty Cart” purchased with funds raised by the DAR. A Dec. 6 dedication ceremony commemorated the DAR’s donation to the Long Beach facility.
“Most people don’t realize what a big difference this makes to a person in a wheelchair,” said Carol Bachand, regent of the Long Beach-based Susan B. Anthony chapter of the DAR. “Some wheelchair patients have to go to several different buildings each time they come to the Veterans Center for diagnosis or treatment, and until now, that was often quite an ordeal.”
For many years, the hospital has had electric carts for transporting patients to different buildings on the grounds, but a wheelchair could not fit on those carts. “So hospital staff would have to lift a wheelchair patient out of his or her wheelchair and place the person on the cart seat,” Bachand explained. “Then they would attach the wheelchair to the cart, transport the patient to the place they needed to go, lift them off the seat and place them back in the wheelchair.” She noted that the process was often physically uncomfortable and emotionally distressing to patients who were already dealing with serious illnesses. “Imagine how stressful it would be if they had to be loaded and unloaded from a cart several times in one day,” she said.
Wheelchair patients can also wheel themselves from building to building, but the VA hospital campus encompasses about one square mile. Patients who do not have electric-powered wheelchairs and do not have strong upper bodies simply cannot traverse the grounds with their own strength. The other option is to wait for the next available escort to push them to their destinations, but that usually involves a long wait.
The Long Beach VA Hospital’s Liberty Cart now offers an easily accessible rapid transit system for wheelchair patients on the hospital grounds.
A Liberty Cart resembles a multi-passenger golf cart that has been modified. The middle row of seats has been removed and a movable ramp has been installed. Wheelchairs can be easily moved up the ramp and securely fastened in the section built to hold them. “There is no longer a need to lift the patient out of the wheelchair and load them into the cart,” Bachand said. “They stay in the wheelchair as they are transported from building to building, and their friends and family members can ride in the cart with them.”
George Gentry, a Vietnam veteran, participated in the Dec. 6 ceremony. He was the first wheelchair patient to ride in the cart on the Long Beach campus. “They asked me to come to the ceremony to demonstrate that the cart works,” he said. “It worked just fine; getting my wheelchair up the ramp and into the cart was very easy, and getting off the cart was easy as well.”
Liberty Carts are hybrid-electric vehicles made by Yamaha. They are street-legal, which means they can travel to and from bus stops and remote parking lots. They have sun, wind and rain protection and are decorated with patriotic markings. Each cart costs from $12,000 to $13,200 depending on how it is equipped to meet the needs of the hospital that uses it.
DAR State Regent Anne Lampman initiated the Liberty Cart project about two years ago. “She was hoping DAR could raise enough money to purchase two carts–one to be used in Northern California and one for Southern California,” Bachand said. “But the effort has proven to be far more successful than we thought possible, and so far, we have been able to donate seven Liberty Carts to veterans hospitals in various parts of the state.”
At least three of the vehicles were purchased with donations of $5 to $100, but the Liberty Cart given to the Long Beach Veterans Medical Center was purchased with one donation made with DAR member Beverly Doonan and her sister Cathy Riddle. The women made the donation in memory of their father, Edward L. Kessler, Petty Officer First Class, U.S. Navy, World War II.
“Having a wheelchair-accessible cart makes a huge difference for us and the veterans we serve,” said Rich Beam, director of public affairs at the Long Beach VA hospital. “We are very thankful that the DAR has donated it to us.”
Gentry, whose wife Chris is a member of the Los Cerritos DAR chapter, said he was very pleased to hear that the local VA hospital had its own Liberty Cart. “This is going to make life much easier for veterans in wheelchairs when they have to get to different locations on the hospital grounds,” he said. “The DAR has really done a great thing.”

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