Associations amp up industry's image

Thursday, February 24, 2011

KANSAS CITY and PITTSBURGH - Two state associations have a new weapon in the industry's fight against the misrepresentations that plague home medical equipment providers: public relations firms.

The Midwest Association for Medical Equipment Services (MAMES), which represents HME providers in seven states, and the Pennsylvania Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers (PAMS) both contracted with PR firms in February to help them raise awareness of the positive sides of the industry.

"HME providers are operating at skeleton levels and they're so overwhelmed just taking care of their business and just surviving that they really don't have the time to get out that message," said Rose Schafhauser, executive director of MAMES. "We need to do a better job getting out information about what good the industry does. When a storm closes down the government, HME providers are still delivering to their patients."

MAMES has contracted with Morningstar Communications in Overland Park, Kan., and PAMS has contracted with William J. Green & Associates in Pittsburgh.

The most urgent misrepresentation that the industry must fight, stakeholders say: That competitive bidding is good policy. PAMS is working with its PR firm and the state independent living council to make it easier for beneficiaries to report problems with the program.

"We're going to try something a little different, which is to get our intake folks here to record their stories," said John Shirvinsky, executive director of PAMS. "Relying on beneficiaries to go online or pick up the phone and call a 1-800 number is a stretch for a lot of folks. There's trepidation. We're hoping this will help the process along."

MAMES and PAMS aren't the first state associations to contract with PR firms. The North Carolina Association for Medical Equipment Services (NCAMES) has been working with David Menzies of Menzies Consulting in Apex, N.C., for about a year. Bowen and Menzies most recently partnered on a YouTube channel,, that sheds light on the negative impacts of competitive bidding on the ability of providers to supply quality products and services.

"I've learned that I can't just send a press release and move on," said Beth Bowen, executive director of NCAMES. "This is his job. He doesn't just write good press releases. He makes calls; he follows up. It's definitely gotten us exposure that, otherwise, we wouldn't have had. We've had coverage in the major newspapers and the major networks. It's starting to resonate."