Freak accident leads provider to business opportunity

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SAN DIEGO - Two hours after landing in Italy for a long-awaited "honeymoon," a gelato craving brought Terry Racciato's vacation to an abrupt end.

"I got my foot wedged between a trolley track and a cobble stone," said Racciato, owner of SpecialCare, a full-line DME. "I fell--gelato in hand--and broke my foot."

Racciato was treated at a local hospital and released with no crutches and no place to get them. That was followed by a hastily arranged flight home with multiple connections. When she missed a connection in Detroit and had to stay over, motel staff wheeled Racciato to her room in an office chair, spinning her in circles the entire way.

"That got me to thinking, 'what do other people do?" said Racciato. "Not everybody knows they are going to have a disability when they get to their destination. There's got to be other people who are clumsy enough to fall."

In February, SpecialCare began offering travel oxygen and mobility equipment to people traveling to and from San Diego.

Travelers can make arrangements ahead of time--the company is listed with several disabled travel organizations--but SpecialCare also has its services listed on kiosks at San Diego International Airport.

Local hotel concierges and the visitors bureau can also make arrangements. Payment is made in advance with a credit card, and SpecialCare delivers the equipment to the hotel or airport, usually within the hour for basic mobility items. Certain types of equipment, like CPAP, require two-week's advance notice.

"Our main objective was that people coming into San Diego for family visits, vacations or conferences would have the ability to have the equipment they needed to give them the independence they needed to be less isolated," said Racciato.

Short-term equipment rentals also make it easier for the elderly to travel. For example, a baby boomer might rent a wheelchair or bed to accommodate a parent's visit.

Racciato said that the travel niche takes extra legwork, but says it's worth it.

"There's extra on-call hours and extra billing for smaller dollar amounts," she said. "But in the end it's a service we can offer that can make someone's life better."