Charley Ruckstuhl: A rehab industry diplomat

Thursday, March 31, 2005

LARGO, Fla. — Diplomacy isn’t limited to political appointees with attaché cases. Some of the best ambassadors, such as Charley Ruckstuhl, work in healthcare sales.
Bruce Bayes, president of Custom Mobility learned this first hand in 2002. That’s when Bayes, after watching how Ruckstuhl mobilized his rehab clients to successfully lobby Florida Medicaid for pediatric “K” codes, recruited Ruckstuhl for his team. Sales reps who take on additional responsibility and demonstrate that kind of leadership are a special breed, Bayes said.
“All our sales reps are extremely valuable contributors, but Charley has a rare ability that makes him stand out,” Bayes said. “He has the capability to look farther out onto the horizon and see the future. Even though we’re not the ones writing policy guidelines, if we have a problem, we have an obligation to go to elected officials and convince them why they’re wrong. It’s a huge challenge for our industry, and Charley takes the lead role on that front.”
Referral sources appreciate Ruckstuhl’s efforts, and that’s one reason they like working with him. But he brings more to the table than sincerity.
Ruckstuhl is an anomaly in that he’s an HME sales rep who came from another industry. The CRTS worked 15 years managing hotels and restaurants before spending the last nine years in healthcare. It was in the hospitality sector that Ruckstuhl learned the value of customer service, and applying those principles to rehab has vaulted him to the top of his profession.
When teamed with the referral source and caregiver, he is part of a healthcare triad that offers a unified alliance to support the patient, Ruckstuhl said.
“The ideal care model for rehab is when the clinician meets with the CRTS, the patient and caregiver,” he said. “The clinician brings diagnostic information to the patient, the CRTS brings equipment knowledge and the caregiver has experience with the patient’s daily environment. Together these three entities form a plan to solve that particular challenge.”
Because the financially strapped Medicaid program is a major funding source for rehab, Ruckstuhl is constantly fighting battles on behalf of his patients. Campaign victories like the successful effort to gain “K” codes for pediatric chairs in Florida are the exception rather than the rule in rehab, and the struggle will continue as long as policymakers don’t understand how the equipment benefits patients, he said.
“What makes our side of the industry especially difficult is that every job is submitted to the funding source for approval, and we’re getting more flat-out denials than ever before,” Ruckstuhl said. “They seem to be more price-sensitive now due to decreasing state budgets and lower tax bases. As an industry, we need more grassroots education, but for some reason there is a lack of scientific research that shows the long-term cost benefits of the equipment. Until we are able to provide it, we will lose most of these funding challenges.”
Meanwhile, Ruckstuhl soldiers on, furnishing every scrap of information he thinks will convince the payer to cover his patients’ equipment.
“Every piece of my work is scrutinized before it’s done to ensure there is absolutely no question of fraud or overutilization,” he said. “I can defend my positions easily without losing any sleep.”