Wheelchairs are not just an ordinary piece of equipment or an asset. They can be viewed as legs without which some people will not be able to move.
There are no two opinions about it. All theft is bad, but stealing a wheelchair is even worse, and unfortunately, something that, indeed, does happen.
Wheelchairs are also quite expensive; thus, it is only natural to make sure they stay where they are needed most—with their owners.
How to prevent wheelchair theft? To prevent wheelchair theft, do not leave it unattended, and when you do, use a heavy-duty bike lock and chain. A GPS tracking device can also be used for additional protection. In addition to that, anti-theft bars and anti-fold bars can be used by hospitals to prevent wheelchair theft.
Continue reading below for a more in-depth look and information on the best ways to prevent a wheelchair from being stolen. (Including some helpful information for both individuals and hospitals.)
Methods to Prevent Wheelchair Theft
Use the following method to prevent wheelchair theft.
Use an Anti-Theft Bike Chain Lock
As a general rule of thumb—do not leave the wheelchair unattended, even if it is on your front porch.
Storing your wheelchair (or backup wheelchair) in a secure, out of sight area. Thus garages, porches, sheds, and the like should be avoided.
But if you have to leave it somewhere, make sure to have it securely tethered to something. (A protective cover can also help in keeping the wheelchair out of sight.)
The same way people use bike chain locks to secure their bicycles, you can use a bike chain to secure a wheelchair to a stationary object.
For example, on Amazon, you can find this heavy-duty bike chain.
The standard steel cables that are oftentimes used are also a viable option, but thieves can cut through them quite easily. However, this is not the case with this bike chain as it is very durable and can definitely hold its own against the majority of thieves.
Install a GPS Tracking Device
Considering the high-value of wheelchairs in terms of not just price but functionality and necessity. Investing in a GPS tracking device can make all the difference in the world.
People use these trackers mostly for cars and trailers, but they can be used on a number of different objects.
GPS trackers can be found on Amazon—like this one from Optimus Tracker, which has some excellent features. For example, you can set up a geofence. The device will alert you immediately if the wheelchair has left the predetermined area you have set up.
All these alerts will be sent directly to your smartphone over their app. It is a simple and very accurate GPS tracker that has a battery life of up to 2 weeks.
The only downside to GPS trackers is that the GPS services are offered over a mobile network, which means there will be subscription fees each month.
Clearly Label the Wheelchair
Make sure to have the wheelchair clearly labeled in both highly-visible and more obscure areas.
This will not exactly stop a thief but may be able to deter them as the wheelchair may end up being harder to sell. (Because these labels can also be used as proof.)
How do Hospitals Prevent Wheelchair Theft?
You would be amazed at the things people steal. In fact, you will be surprised how many wheelchairs are being stolen from hospitals around the country.
St. Louis University Hospital reported that about 25 of their wheelchairs are stolen each year.
And the St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis estimated that twice as many wheelchairs—or about 50—are stolen each year.
Percentage-wise health care facilities have reported that about 10% to 25% of their wheelchair fleet is going missing each year.
As you can see, even hospitals are having trouble securing their wheelchairs from thieves.
Hospitals and health care facilities use different methods to protect their wheelchairs from thieves.
Anti-Theft Over Head Poles and Tubes
I am sure that anyone who’s been to a hospital (or even an airport for that matter) may have noticed that their wheelchairs look a little different.
I am talking about these long overhead bars (link to Amazon). These bars make the wheelchair taller, wider, and longer. (And impossible to fold up.) As a result, they are harder to take out of the hospital and load in the back of a car.
Of course, this method for wheelchair theft prevention is not 100% secure. But it is an effective, relatively low-cost way to deter people from leaving with a hospital’s wheelchair.
Another method hospitals use to deter people from loading the wheelchair into their vehicle is by using a simple anti-folding bar like this one on Amazon.
These bars will essentially prevent people from being able to fold up the wheelchair.
A fully unfolded wheelchair is not just harder to carry around but also almost impossible to fit in the back of a car without that drawing at least some attention.
Optimized Inventory Control Techniques
This is a more time-consuming method, but it can lower and limit the number of wheelchairs that can be stolen.
For example: setting par levels, so to speak, of having enough wheelchairs to meet the regular day-to-day demands of patients while keeping the extra wheelchairs stored in a secure but easily-accessible place by the staff only.
Clearly Labeled Wheelchairs
Ensuring that wheelchairs are clearly labeled in a visible place will not physically prevent someone from taking them. However, it may deter people as the hospital or labels may attract unwanted attention.
If the person is interested in selling the wheelchair, the hospital or health center logo may make it extremely hard to sell.
The areas where the wheelchairs are stored, including other areas of the facility like all the entrances and parking lots, should have appropriate surveillance installed.
Displaying a Sign
I admit this is the most bare-bones way to protect a wheelchair from being stolen, but it can work. It has been tested.
Not long ago, on the campus of Newcastle University, a study took place. Its aim? To determine if displaying a warning sign stating that people there are under surveillance was enough to reduce bike theft. And it was. In fact, it was so effective that the numbers dropped by more than 50%.
Anti-Theft Tracking System
A GPS tracking system is the best way to monitor where a wheelchair is in real-time, but considering the price of each device and the fact that you will need multiple subscription plans makes matters quite complicated and, most of all, expensive.
This is where an RFID anti-theft system can be an excellent alternative. There is a reason why stores use it as it provides reliable levels of security and is fairly inexpensive.
RFID systems have great potential in even detecting movement.
Other third-party indoor positioning systems can also be used for tagging, tracking, and managing wheelchair fleets.
Why Do People Steal Wheelchairs?
Wheelchairs can cost between $150 and $3,000.
The pediatric and lightweight wheelchairs can cost as low as $150, while some of the higher-end lightweight wheelchairs and active wheelchairs can go for at least $3,000.
A standard wheelchair typically costs between $300 and $700.
Standing wheelchairs are an entirely different type of animal—costing between $5,000 and $15,000.
Given these numbers, it is very easy to see that one of the main reasons for stealing a wheelchair is because they are expensive. Even $150 can be more than enough of an incentive for someone to steal a wheelchair.
Frequently thieves may try to sell it online, so it is worth checking websites like eBay and Craigslist. While others may just take it for a spin and abandon it somewhere in the neighborhood.
But that does not mean everyone that steals a wheelchair is a thief.
Hospitals are the most common place where wheelchairs go missing.
Sometimes people there do not realize that they are stealing the wheelchair. A lot of these people have a lot more pressing and stressful matters at hand, and it is easy to forget to return the wheelchair, while others may be left with the impression they can take the wheelchair.
What to Do If Your Wheelchair Gets Stolen?
Making sure your wheelchair is protected against thieves is mandatory. But this is where an important disclaimer must be made.
Even the best and most sophisticated anti-theft protection devices and methods cannot give you 100% protection.
If somebody wants to steal a wheelchair, they can do it if they have the necessary tools, knowledge, and, most importantly, time.
All these methods, tips, and tricks have one purpose in mind—to make the process of stealing said wheelchair as difficult and time-consuming as possible.
But what to do if that happens?
- Make sure to keep records, relevant information, and video or photo proof of your wheelchair. Things like photos of the wheelchair and its labels, serial numbers, and more are always helpful.
- Report the theft to the police as soon as possible and follow their guidance.
There is no guarantee that the police will be able to retrieve the stolen wheelchair. However, the police report will be needed if you want to submit an insurance claim.