Georgie Blackburn: Don't be afraid to speak out

Thursday, August 31, 2006

While she's not comfortable being seen as a cop, compliance officer Georgie Blackburn is steadfastly dedicated to upholding the law at her company. She knows all too well that if processes aren't watched carefully, the consequence might be a costly penalty.
Blackburn's diligence averted a potential financial disaster in 2003. As the result of an external audit, a payer demanded--and received--$250,000 from the company for what it alleged to be a claims violation.
"They argued that we wrongly billed for K0004 wheelchairs, and we had no choice but to write them a check," she said. "So it gave me a great deal of joy to fight them, prove we were right and to get the money back."
A 28-year veteran of the HME industry, Blackburn spent most of those years managing her company's rehab division before becoming its first compliance officer in 1999. Even though she was a dedicated CRTS, the job had enormous appeal, she said.
"I like projects, details and people, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to combine all those skills," Blackburn said.
Serving as compliance officer also gave Blackburn the opportunity to pivot into other areas, such as grassroots lobbying. Besides being the current president of the Pennsylvania Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers, she also serves on the advisory committee and is rehab team leader for Region A. Although she has an abiding respect for rules, she also believes in challenging the status quo when the situation warrants it.
"The rules should be designed to balance the needs of the patient and the business," she said. "When they are written in a way that doesn't make sense, you have to speak out."
As someone who is engaging and personable, Blackburn is sometimes bothered that her job--auditing internal processes and reporting to senior management--can put her at odds with staff members she cites for procedural missteps.
"It can be tough being seen as the police officer of the organization," she said. "The staff needs to know that none of what I report is personal. It is critical analysis."
Blackburn maintains that she doesn't feel handicapped being a woman in "the good ol' boy network" among the industry's leadership, but she admits that she's glad to see more women being added to the PAMS board. Overall though, gender isn't a big issue with her.
"It may very well be true that men have the high-profile positions while women stay in the background," she said. "But that doesn't trouble me as long as I'm successful myself."

Years in business: 28
Company/location: Blackburn's, Tarentum, Pa.
Size: $25 million
Position: Compliance officer
Professional associations: PAMS, NRRTS, MED Group, Region A advisory council and rehab team leader
Business philosophy: There is always a way to correct a problem.