Farewell to a homecare superstar

Friday, February 29, 2008

With the passing of Lisa Thomas-Payne Jan. 10, a significant era in the HME industry officially ended.
As close to a superstar as one can get in the decidedly unglamorous world of healthcare billing, Lisa had the magic ability to give a dry topic sex appeal. She had all the attributes of a compelling speaker--dynamic, articulate, passionate and animated, as well as being easy on the eyes. But her true strength was the seemingly infinite depth of her knowledge when it came to Medicare Part B billing and reimbursement.
For the better part of two decades, Lisa was the biggest attraction on the HME circuit. My initial glimpse of her enormous stature came when I attended my first Medtrade show in 1990. Her Billing Basics seminar came highly recommended as a session that would give me valuable insight into the complicated Medicare reimbursement system. When I asked for the room number, I was told to "follow the crowd." As I navigated the halls of the Georgia World Congress Center, I got swept up in a sea of people all moving with purpose toward the same doorway. I know now they were thinking: "If I don't get there fast, it'll be standing room only." After Lisa took the stage and started performing, I realized that she was, indeed, a superstar.
Her role in helping providers elevate themselves as businesspeople is unparalleled; during her heyday as a consultant and premier speaker in the 1980s and '90s, she was simply without peer. That is not a slight to the many fine consultants who worked alongside Lisa during those days; it is merely a declaration that she was the best there ever was at what she did. As one who attended literally hundreds of seminars during the 1990s, I feel qualified to make that judgment.
I admit to being slightly biased. While an editor for Chicago-based McKnight Medical Communications in the mid-'90s, I worked closely with Lisa on a publishing project that was near and dear to her heart--a newsletter for both HME providers and home health nurses called Home Health Incomes & Outcomes. This was a huge coup for McKnight because all the industry trade magazines zealously pursued her to write exclusively for them. But Lisa, a skilled negotiator, held out for a deal that gave her the most money and creative control.
Lisa's battle with cancer was inspirational to all who knew her. After her first mastectomy in 1992, I sent her a teddy bear dressed as a police officer, commending her for being such a "trooper." Even as the disease progressed, she kept fighting with the spirit and determination that made her such a success.
It never ceases to amaze me how many brilliant people work in home care, and I have had the privilege of meeting many of them during my 18 years in HME. But Lisa Thomas-Payne was in a league of her own, and it isn't likely that the industry will see a figure of her prominence and importance anytime soon, if ever.