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Wheelchair dispute leaves teen waiting

The condition of a Country Club teenager suffering from a terminal illness has worsened, creating the need for a new wheelchair. But the girl waits in vain while her mother struggles to deal with various obstacles.

Jenna Marie Hill, 19, of Campbell Drive, has a rare sickness called Batten Disease. She was playing sports and dancing at prom as recently as April, but soon after could not walk. Now she cannot hold her head up without assistance.

JoAnn Hill, her mother, said Jenna now needs a special chair that reclines and has a neck rest. “She basically needs a chair for someone with cerebral palsy,” she said. “She needs the Bentley of wheelchairs.”

Jenna is a student at the New York Institute for Special Education on Pelham Parkway. She had been utilizing a simple wheelchair, but once her situation worsened, was approved for a more advanced chair by Medicare. But JoAnn began facing problems when she started dealing with RehabCo, on Olmstead Avenue, which is the designated vendor for Medicare.

“They were extremely rude to me, and they are the reason Jenna is without a chair right now,” said JoAnn. According to her, after Medicare approved Jenna’s new chair RehabCo called to schedule a delivery. They had the chair and it should all have been very simple, she said. But the secretary who called from RehabCo told JoAnn they would deliver the chair sometime between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on a weekday. “I’m a single mother and I have to work during the day,” JoAnn explained. She told the scheduler the delivery time was no good.

That was when, according to JoAnn, the clerk became very rude. “She said, Well, guess we have a problem, because that’s when we deliver.” JoAnn asked to speak to a supervisor, who she said turned out to be “just as nasty.”

Finally, she got in touch with the owner of RehabCo, Jeff Offner, who she admitted was polite at first.

Offner attempted to set up other times to deliver the chair, but none worked.

According to JoAnn, Offner became angry and told her to forget it, he was canceling her order and wasn’t going to do business with her. “Needless to say, I agreed he should cancel it, and I proceeded to find someone else to help my daughter.”

By this point, the chair sitting at RehabCo wasn’t suitable anyway. Jenna’s condition had worsened considerably.

JoAnn took Jenna to YIA, a special facility, and got an appointment with someone who would measure Jenna and fit her for a new chair. Once they did, JoAnn found out to her horror that RehabCo was the only vendor this facility works with. She went ahead and put in the order for a new chair, but got a call days later from YIA telling her that “the vendor refused to work with us.”

Now, JoAnn is scratching her head looking for somewhere else to take her daughter — a new facility that will see Jenna, approve the wheelchair she needs, and help her get it from an alternate vendor.

Offner tells a different story. “The chair was ready for delivery on May 14,” he acknowledges. “There were several attempts made: two at her home, two at her job. She failed to be available all four times.”

Offner said that JoAnn was verbally abusive to his staff, and that, “It got to the point where my employees couldn’t deal with her rationally.”

He is up front about their bitter ending. “I told her it was clear I couldn’t meet her expectations, she should go to another provider, and I’d notify Medicare,” he said.

The question, then, remains — why wouldn’t Offner try again with the Hills once they went to YIA and received approval for a different chair? “I cannot deal with Ms. Hill on any level,” he answered.

Offner said that at this point, he would not agree to work with the family, and believes that he gave JoAnn more than her fair share of chances. “I completely understand her concern for her sick child,” he said. “We do this every day, and I’ve been doing this since 1972. But she just went over the edge with us.”

But Offner has made headlines before.

In 2008, the Daily News reported that another Bronx child, Stephanie Ocana, was stuck at home for two months because RehabCo would not deliver her new wheelchair due to what Offner said at the time was a delay from Medicare.

Regardless of whose story is more accurate, the Hills are through with RehabCo; they just want to get Jeanna the wheelchair she needs.

“All this is about now is finding a new vendor,” said JoAnn.

“The disagreement about delivery of the first chair, that’s done, because what she needs now is something much more advanced,” she said. “RehabCo refused to keep working with us, fine. So now we have another appointment scheduled. But this is hard for us.”

Meanwhile, Jenna keeps waiting.

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