Antonette Benham has a long and strong history of serving the Thurston County community both in state government and now as manager of the nonprofit Medical Equipment Bank (MEB). And luckily for the MEB, she has transferred skills she learned in her government jobs to fit today’s needs of the community’s medical equipment resource where she volunteers.
“That’s easy! I can do that!” is a phrase Benham frequently uses. And with that positive attitude, it’s easy to see why she became the MEB manager.
Antonette Benham Develops Key Skills at State Agencies Before Retiring
Benham retired from state service in 2011. For more than 20 years, she had worked for the Department of Social and Health Services, Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, and Washington Department of Transportation. In all three agencies she worked with customers and developed forms and databases, designing and implementing different documents and records systems. “I learned a lot about building databases,” she says. “It was great, and I loved doing it.”
Those skills were later needed at the MEB.
Benham Discovers the Medical Equipment Bank and Begins Volunteering
While working in state government, Benham was also a caregiver for her mother. In about 2002, her mother needed some medical equipment as part of her care plan. Benham discovered the MEB, which refurbishes donated medical equipment before loaning them out to those in need.
People can check out the equipment from the bank, returning the items when they no longer need them. Equipment includes wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds and accessories, crutches, canes, bath benches, transfer benches, shower chairs, grab bars, toilet accessories, patient lifts, blood pressure monitors, scooters, respiratory and oxygen equipment, supplies and more.
Volunteers staff the bank. Benham says she got to know them and learned they needed a person to take phone messages from customers looking for equipment and supplies. “That’s easy, I can do that,” she says she told herself, and signed on as a volunteer. From there, the MEB began tapping Benham for more tasks. One day, they were short of volunteers and asked her to come in and help customers sign in at the front desk. “I can do that, that’s easy,” she says she told them.
As she worked at the front desk, Benham saw the forms that donors and customers use and thought the documents could be improved. “If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it right,” she says. “I started looking at their forms and took one home, and redesigned if for them. They were fine with it.”
Medical Equipment Bank Moves and Appoints Benham as Manager
In October 2023, the MEB moved into its new location, now in the Sunshine Plaza at the corner of Lilly Road and Martin Way. Prior to that, Benham had been having frequent conversations with Joyce Willms, president of the Thurston County Council on Aging Board that oversees the MEB and publishes The Senior News. Benham says one day, Willms asked her, “Would you like to be the boss of the new MEB?” And Benham said yes.
Since her appointment, Benham has been busy drawing on her forms skills, developing a database, scheduling volunteers, designing business cards, and helping customers get the right equipment and supplies. Benham recalls one customer had experienced a stroke and came in to borrow equipment. She says that what the customer had initially thought she wanted was not what Benham thought the physical therapist was likely to recommend.
“I worked with her to get her the right equipment,” says Benham. The customer ultimately checked out bed rails and an item to help with dressing, but was comfortable in waiting on other things until her physical therapist determined the appropriate mobility equipment. “I would have happily given her everything that she wanted, but it would not have been safe,” says Benham.
Benham Encourages Donations and Volunteers for Medical Equipment Bank
The MEB serves approximately 4,680 persons per year. Willms and Benham explain that donations of equipment, funds and time are what keep the bank open.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations are deductible and several donating organizations also support the MEB. While the MEB moved into a new rented location last fall, Willms says they are looking for a longer-term space, and funding will be needed to assist in that effort.
Volunteers return phone calls, staff the front desk, assist customers, intake equipment and supplies, and clean and maintain equipment. Benham says more volunteers are needed to ensure sufficient coverage.
If you are interested in borrowing or donating medical equipment, or giving funds or time, contact Benham at the Medical Equipment Bank.
Medical Equipment Bank
3537 Martin Way E, Olympia