Fary's national respiratory award sustains Apria's momentum

Thursday, October 31, 2002

Lightning has struck twice for the resurgent Apria Healthcare. In the same month, the company cinched first place in the Respiratory category of the HME Excellence Awards, and a key executive won acclaim from the American Respiratory Care Foundation.

The ARCF is a branch of the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC).

Because Apria's HME Excellence accolades are covered on page 4, it is Bob Fary, corporate director of respiratory services, who merits the attention in this space. The seemingly indefatigable health care veteran garnered the Invacare Award for Excellence in Home Respiratory Care at the AARC's 48th International Respiratory Congress in early October.

Now in its 10th year, the award recognizes "outstanding achievement in home respiratory care." In Fary's case, "outstanding achievement" means assuming a multi-dimensional role of internal and external advocacy on top of managing the largest home respiratory service in the industry. Besides being a visible figure in the national oxygen retesting and competitive bidding debates in Washington, Fary also works to elevate the status of the home respiratory therapist in the health care community.

"Bob has been a highly vocal and significant contributor at all the conferences and meetings for respiratory care issues," said nominator Joe Lewarski, president of Mentor, Ohio-based Hytech Homecare and AARC Homecare Section chairman. "His involvement in the clinical and business sides, as well as the volunteer side with patient support, make him noteworthy and deserving of the award. He has advanced the cause of home respiratory therapy."

Graciously, Fary credited his respiratory colleagues with helping him earn the ARCF honor.

"I take this award to be an affirmation of the home care therapist in general and recognition of the excellent work that the 1,000 Apria RTs do every day," he said. "They are the folks who are on the front line caring for families."

Fary said he considers one of his primary accomplishments to be "dispelling the myth" that respiratory therapists who work in home care are there because "they couldn't cut it" in the hospital sector.

"Not to disparage hospital-based therapists, but they have a safety net in the presence of doctors and nurses," he said. "People in home care are working without that net – it's up to them to make key decisions."

One advantageous relationship Fary has cultivated is with the National Association for Medical Direction in Respiratory Care. By building a bridge with the NAMDRC physicians – pulmonologists who specialize in ventilator therapy, sleep apnea, and other respiratory disorders – home-based therapists now have legitimacy in the medical establishment, he said.

"Many of these physicians are staunch supporters of the respiratory profession and they appreciate the services these RTs provide," he said. "Therapists are the eyes and ears of the physician in the home."

Patient advocacy is paramount with Fary as well. His pet project in this area is working with the airlines to implement a standard oxygen device for respiratory patients to use on aircraft. Currently, patients who fly are put through some convoluted paces involving transfers between equipment, he said. By working with the U.S. Department of Transportation and several respiratory equipment manufacturers, Fary is optimistic some type of solution will be reached.

"We're looking at three possibilities equally – a portable liquid system, a gas tank system sealed in a way the DOT would approve and a portable battery-operated concentrator," he said. "By making travel easier for the patients, it becomes easier for airlines, airports and providers, too."

The National Council on Disability proved to be a crucial ally in the effort, Fary said, because they opened the door to communications with the right people.

"They connected us with the DOT and made them aware of the respiratory patient's plight," he said. "After 9/11, it became impossible to provide oxygen at the gates and people were no longer able to get the equipment through security. Now DOT officials realize what an unhealthy situation that is for these patients."

Fary joined Apria four years ago during the company's financial nadir. Since his arrival, fortunes have risen – aided substantially by his contributions, said Lisa Getson, executive vice president of business development and clinical services.

"He's an RT first, but he has sales strength," she said. "A large part of his role is talking to national accounts, medical directors at health plans, and case managers who need to know the clinical aspects of respiratory care as well as the reimbursement aspects of it. He has also been instrumental in reestablishing strong relations between Apria and America's thought leaders in the respiratory world."

New product testing is another part of Fary's domain. By coordinating with Apria's logistics and reimbursement departments, he evaluates each product's clinical efficacy, reliability, coverage potential and competitive advantages over existing products. One of his biggest successes to date: adopting Puritan Bennett's Helios portableO2 system.

As an RT and respiratory services director, Fary also develops new patient models to fit with new technology. By writing new corporate respiratory policies, his goal is to align the focus of the RT with the overall goals of the company.

Besides being an active member of AARC, Fary is involved with AAHomecare's Future of Reimbursement group and sits on the National Home Oxygen Patients Association Board of Directors. HME