500 providers gather in the Heartland

Sunday, June 14, 2009

WATERLOO, Iowa – The old saying, “What a difference a year makes,” could have been coined for The VGM Group’s Heartland Conference. Last year, the flooding Cedar River swamped downtown Waterloo and cut the event short. This year, Mother Nature cooperated and Heartland went off swimmingly.

From the opening hog roast and fireworks Monday night through Thursday’s finale, the member-service organization’s legendary Midwest hospitality was on full display. Whether filling drink cups, chaperoning a tour through the local John Deere plant, answering questions or handing out home-baked chocolate chip cookies, VGM associates treated attendees, as said one provider, like kin.

And the theme for this year’s event, Get Smart(er), hit home with attendees as well.

“Being smarter is critical,” said Monty Lankford, president of TLC Medical Oxygen in Franklin, Tenn. “If you are going to survive today, you’d better be smarter than you have ever been.”

In all, this year’s Heartland Conference included 71 vendor booths, 219 manufacturers reps, 90 speakers and 503 attendees. Last year, the event attracted 650 attendees. COO Jim Phillips attributed the decline in attendance to providers staying home to prepare for mandatory accreditation.

Education tracks tackled executive issues, operations, products and technology, regulatory issues, rehab, reimbursement, respiratory, and sales and marketing.

Heartland’s emphasis on education created a “very positive environment,” said Beth Bowen, executive director of the North Carolina Association for Medical Equipment Suppliers (NCAMES). And the brief break from industry advocacy work felt “like a vacation.”

Phillips agreed. But he also acknowledged the regulatory and reimbursement pressures the industry is under. VGM, he said, will “fight like hell to convince legislators that home health care is part of a lower cost solution to health care in this country.”