My drawings at Interdesign showing the basic concept.
The initial concept of the Lift-Care geriatric nursing bed was really raised by Sister Elaine Abbott and George Winston – when I was Chair of the IDCA Education and Promotions Committee around 1980 -81.
I later attended an ICSID (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design) INTERDESIGN at Maastricht, Netherlands in 1982, some 2 years after my founding of TADACT in 1979. (see OVERVIEW this section).
This Interdesign was based around Design for Disability and participants from all round the world gathered with their particular problems requiring design resolution – so I took along the bed problem.
I only had preliminary thoughts about the structure of the bed but the drawings below have some similarity to the final Lift-Care bed as you will see from the photos on the next page.
My colleague Richard Saberton was a mechanical engineer and when we got back together in Canberra he came up with the idea of the fusee system using garage door springs to counterbalance the weight of the bed platform and the patient – it worked brilliantly, using the 12v electric motor from a portable drill.
One of the reasons why Sr Elaine Abbott insisted the bed drop to a low level as seen in the above illustrations was the need to evacuate the occupant in case of fire.
The bed could be lowered to 225mm (top of mattress) above the floor (lower than any other bed in the world) – then slipped off the bed and dragged along the floor to the exit quite safely and quickly. Whether this important feature is ever considered by hospital buyers when comparing beds for purchase is debatable – somehow I have my doubts – yet it was a critical determining factor which forced the overall concept of the bed and its unique mechanism. Designers have to be very careful.
The LIFTCARE geriatric nursing bed was a long story of slow, persistent design effort by Richard Saberton and myself through the agency of Technical Aid to the Disabled ACT, followed by Disability Aids Collective which morphed into TAD Productions – roughly 1980 – 93.
Other TADACT volunteers who made contributions at intervals were Charles Bartholomew, Harry Hesse and Sid Drury. The story of the bed is a long one, fraught with the difficulties of transferring an idea into a working prototype to a bankruptcy then to the commercial realities of production and trying to sell a somewhat radical concept to a very conservative niche market.
It ended with 13 years of hard work being stolen by another manufacturer Acme Pickering somewhere in the Dandenong region by a defaulting foremen (Willie) who transferred all our concepts, taking advantage of a rather weak patent which did not envisage another mechanical system. But you need money to fight a case through the courts – which we didn’t have.
We finally got it working perfectly.…. only to have it stolen by another Australian company. I visited the thief at his office in Dandenong, anonymously at first to get access but all he did was smile and say “ take us to court” which we couldn’t do as a non-profit company. We were very grateful to have the support of Allan…? and Barry McKinnon of Port-O-Kiln P/L, Dandenong. It’s a very sad world – we must have invested thousands of hours of our own voluntary time & $39,000 of grants from BHP & a Federal Dept. of Industry & all the time by Port-O-Kiln staff.
It was the only bed on the market that could be safely lowered down to floor level allowing the mattress to be pulled off in a fire emergency and slid over the floor to the exit (with the geriatric patient on it.) The firm that stole the design – Pickering Acme would not pay us any royalties – no morality in that business !
Sequel to the story of the TADACT LiftCare bed
This chapter of the TADACT history does not, unfortunately, tell the full story because only three of its members followed it through to the sad and sorry end – Derek Wrigley, Richard Saberton and Sid Drury – only concluding in the early 2000s.
All three witnessed the full drama, but Richard sadly died in 2004 in the knowledge that his incredible contribution to TADACT, along with Sid’s and mine, was negated by commercial greed, selfishness and disregard for the decencies of civilised behaviour.
It is in memory of Richard’s contribution that I try to write this abbreviated version of the events which prevented a happy ending for the TADACT bed for geriatric use.
Richard and I spent the best part of 19 years in designing and detailing a concept for this special kind of bed, proving that it could work. This we did with generous help from Task Engineering in Queanbeyan and then managed to find a sympathetic manufacturer , M.G. Morrison & Co. Sale, Victoria, who made a working prototype, thus demonstrating its functional suitability. Most unfortunately, for reasons unrelated to the bed, the firm became bankrupt and the prototype became the property of the liquidator who refused to release it, unless paid a sum we couldn’t possibly afford.
Fortunately, Barry McCrimmon, our liaison officer at Morrison’s, had a good friend Allan Clarke who owned Port-O-Kiln P/L, a firm in Dandenong, who was persuaded to help. He bought out the prototype from the rapacious receiver and with Barry once again in the saddle we continued the development of the bed which acquired the name “Lift-Care”.
Gradually the workings of the bed evolved into a production model which was approved by the initiating client, Sr. Elaine Abbott, the Director of Nursing whom we had to satisfy. A few pilot models were made and sold to various nursing homes with excellent responses which gave us all confidence in its suitability. A few hundred beds were subsequently made and sold and some royalties started to flow to TADACT which cheered us all up.
It was obviously a needed product because a take over bid was made by a Sydney firm Bio-Assist Industries P/L which caused considerable angst, waste of time and legal fees to Port-O-Kiln – and indeed to Richard and myself which lasted for quite a few years.
The blow really came in 199? when Willie Kelly, the foreman in Port-O-Kiln who was responsible for the actual construction of the bed and knew every mechanical detail just left to join a rival firm Atco Pickering taking all the details in his head. Even though we had a patent on the bed the acquisitors managed to circumnavigate it with an alternative detail and started manufacture under the name of Maxicare. It was quite obviously the same bed to look at, serving the same functions, but there was little we could do in any legal sense, having no TADACT funds to contribute and with Allen still burdened by the legal fight with Bio-Assist.
To add insult to injury Gerontic and General Products collected more than $95,000 royalties on our behalf (included in the sales price) and used it to pay for their losses. We finally had to settle for $35,000 which was legally owed to TAD Productions (grant recipients).
Time and pressure of other things to do eventually softened the blow, but it left a nasty taste in the mouth that greed could cause people to do such things. Organisations such as TADACT are in no position to legally challenge avaricious behaviour like this and advantage is taken.
At least it could be said that TADACT had pioneered the development of a new kind of bed which has met the principles of TADACT, but in a way which has been to its financial detriment.
And why did it have to leave such a trail of financially damaged companies and people?
Wouldn’t it be nice if Atco Pickering who “acquired“ the design gave a continuing percentage of their profits to help TADACT to continue its work for people with disabilities ?
Derek F. Wrigley April 2010