Apria is winner

Thursday, October 31, 2002

That Apria has been anointed Best
Home Respiratory Provider in the United States in an awards program sponsored by this publication, AAHomecare and Medtrade has no doubt turned some heads in this industry. Conventional wisdom says the best provider is the local provider. Nationals are chump change when they're up against a local who's firing on all cylinders.

The 2002 awards notwithstanding, that sentiment is likely to rein in this industry. But Apria's selection is a remarkable choice, if only as the stimulation of yet more talk about what it means to be the best.

This year's judging panel examined seven respiratory providers and came to a consensus on Apria for a number of reasons. One of the most significant had to do with Apria's financial performance. If you're good, if you're really good, the reasoning went, that excellence will be reflected in your profits.

It's a pretty sound argument. If you're a sloppy provider — you don't follow up on customer calls with alacrity, if your technicians aren't professional, if the beds you deliver smell — people will walk. And if they walk, your financials stumble.

For the most recent quarter, Apria's profits as a percentage of revenue were right at about 8.5%. Pretty hot stuff in an economy like this, say what you will about the immunity of healthcare.

Of course, these judges were responsible to more than just "show me the money." The company's corporate culture of involvement at the community, state and national level is extensive. More than 100 of the company's 480 locations are staffed by three people or less. So when they want to make the argument that they're a collection of small, intimate businesses they can.

Still, Apria's selection surprised me. It surprised some of the judges, too. And so maybe it shouldn't come as surprise that the HME Excellence Awards judging panel was not the only body to flag Apria recently.

Shortly after our panel reached its decision, BusinessWeek named Apria's board of directors as one of the best in corporate America. At the same time, the AARC was conferring the Invacare Award for Excellence in Home Respiratory Care on Apria's corporate director of respiratory services, Bob Fary.

Not a bad resurrection for a company that had a big question mark on it just four years ago. HME