HME Excellence Awards

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

If communication skills are crucial to a healthy business, Rehabilitation Equipment Associates (REQ) is a diplomat for the rehab industry.

The second runner-up in the rehab category for the 2009 HME Excellence Awards puts a high premium on its relationships with its clients, their families and other caregivers; referral sources; and payers. This approach has netted positive results, which prompted one excellence judge to label them “the ambassadors of their specialty.”

Overall, the judging panel agreed that REQ is very proficient at its relationships.

“They do a lot of important things well,” one judge said. “They have a patient-centric mission statement; they rate high in patient satisfaction, community involvement and staff treatment. Their solid financials are a residual of these strengths.”

Like many rehab providers, CEO Jan Soderquist has an undying empathy and compassion for her clients, but she realizes that a consistent revenue stream is what enables her company to serve them well.

“We have learned the knack of doing the right thing, but you have to pay your bills on time,” she said. “We are financially stable, have a good relationship with our bank, exercise sound judgment and complete our financials on a monthly basis.”

Through a highly organized system, methodical management and a hard-working billing/collections team, REQ has achieved a days sales oustanding (DSO) level of 50 days, which is impressive for any HME category, let alone the cash-flow challenged rehab sector. Soderquist credits her billing supervisor Sandy Trull with engineering the system, saying she has a gentle finesse that coaxes people to get things done.

“She’s just a nice person,” Soderquist said. “Sandy’s just like her mother, who had the job before her. When her mother retired, the people from Blue Cross came to her party.”

Making such a strong connection with payers is quite a feat considering the contemptuous attitude providers can have toward them. Yet because the REQ staff is fastidious about details and is geared toward providing stellar service, they make friends everywhere, Soderquist said.

“We do what they ask,” she said about her company’s approach to clients, referral sources and payers. “We have been blessed in that we have very good people who have helped us build this business, who go above and beyond in everything they do. For instance, Deb Greenlaw, who heads up our HME division, is so dedicated and the referral sources love her. We call her ‘The Queen.’”

On the customer service side, Sonya Nichols is adept at making people feel warm and welcome, Soderquist said. Employed at the company six years, Nichols’ history with Soderquist goes back to when she was a four-year-old pediatric client. Other clients have worked for the company, as well.

Soderquist’s husband Karl “found a second career” with the company 13 years ago after working in the computer industry. His main contribution has been to invent the Hubscrub automated cleaning and control system for durable medical equipment. Now in its fourth generation, the unit cleans and disinfects all types of equipment, including wheelchairs, beds, tables, commodes and walkers. Key customers are nursing homes and other medical institutions, which can rent the units to sanitize their equipment.

REQ is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and over the years the office has grown from a closet in the Soderquist home to an 14,000-square-foot facility with 30 employees. Besides Karl, who is vice president, son Scott serves as president and daughter Kim is a seating specialist.

“We are truly a privately held, family-run organization,” Soderquist said. “We are committed to our clients, and to see their achievements is exciting. It may sound trite, but we see our job as offering them hope. We are a provider of hope.”

Company: rehabilitation equipment associates

Headquarters: Manchester, N.H.

Founded: 1984

Employees: 30

Revenues: $4.3 million

Professional affiliations: MED, VGM, New England Medical Equipment Dealers, New Hampshire Senior Education Network

Community outreach: Rehab seating for 100 Peruvian children as part of Eleanore’s Project in 2008; continued free education for physical and occupational therapists; free storage and cleaning of used donated equipment for New Hampshire Special Medical Services programs