Apria acquires a real gem

Sunday, October 10, 2004

October 11, 2004

RAYMOND, N.H. -   Apria acquired one of the nation’s premiere independent HME providers Sept. 30 when it closed a deal for Lifeplus, the 2002 winner of the HME Excellence Awards “Best Home Medical Equipment Company.” The nine-location company was a second runner-up in 2003 for “Best Home Respiratory Provider.”
“Lifeplus has probably never been stronger than it is right now, but the time to think about the future is when you have a position of leverage,” said Lifeplus President and COO April Mason. “With Lifeplus’ branding in this marketplace, it worked to our advantage to make a move like this now.”
When it comes to winning HME Excellence Awards, Apria is no slouch. The company won “Best Home Respiratory Provider, 2002” and was first runner-up in that category last year.
As part of the deal, Lifeplus will continue to operate as Lifeplus, and the company’s management team and staff will stay in place. Mason’s title will change to general manager, but her duties will remain the same. While Apria generally gives its name to companies it acquires, the national sometimes makes an exception for high profile providers like Lifeplus, said Bob Leonard, an associate with the Braff Group who brokered the deal.
Lifeplus’s new marketing material states that the company is:  “Here to stay. Stronger than ever. Same staff... same service... same reliability you’ve come to depend on... for today & tomorrow.”
The deal surprised some due to Mason’s high profile at AAHomecare and the New England Medical Equipment Dealers association. Because of her business smarts and dedication, many figured she’d be one of the last independents standing no matter what the challenges. There’s no doubt, however, that the decision to accept Apria’s offer was well thought out by Mason and her group, said fellow NEMED member Jim Greatorex
“She is usually thinking two or three steps ahead of most people,” Greatorex said. “I think everybody leans on her for wisdom. When the industry throws you a big curve, a lot of people wonder what April would do. We will probably still have a little while to ask her.”
For several reasons, Leonard said, the deal made sense for Lifeplus. First, it allowed the owners, including Mason, to take some of their money off the table and reduce their risk. Second, with significant Medicare cuts scheduled for 2005 and beyond, joining a company with deep pockets will help weather the storm. Finally, being part of a bigger company offers employees more professional opportunities.
“For everyone who is an owner, and April was a part owner, it is all about timing,” Leonard said. “If there is a good enough offer on the table to meet your financial goals, you have to take it seriously.”