HME Excellence Awards: Roberts repeat shows 'staying power'

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Roberts Home Medical has once again ascended to the top of the HME Excellence Awards platform, earning first place this year in the respiratory category for the second time. The 43-year-old company’s initial win came in 2005.

Excellence judges pointed to a consistent level of quality in giving Roberts the top prize.

“To maintain that level of excellence for such a long time shows they have staying power and are a leader in the industry,” one judge remarked.

Lou Kaufman, Roberts’ vice president of patient/client services, says consistency comes naturally for an organization that focuses on quality patient care.

“We don’t look at the bottom line and move things that way—our philosophy is that, if we take care of patients and referral sources, business will improve,” he said. “It has been a successful formula.”

Founded in 1966 as Roberts Oxygen, the company’s primary business was distributing medical specialty gases. It got into home care in 1977 and has grown to employ 270 full-time workers, including 40 respiratory therapists. Its service area includes Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Though Roberts won for its comprehensive respiratory and sleep disordered breathing services, it also provides durable medical equipment and has one of the largest power rehab repair shops in the region, Kaufman said.

“That way someone who needs a bed and oxygen can come to us rather than having to go to two places,” he said.

Investment in high-tech respiratory equipment is helping to stem the number of costly home visits, though the company still offers all modes of oxygen, including liquid, cylinders and stationary concentrators.

By using respiratory therapists on its sales force, Roberts has gained clinical credibility with its referral sources, Kaufman said. Visits to physician offices often turn into two-hour seminars, he said, as opposed to sales calls sprinkled with small talk.

“Even though they would much rather have cookies and doughnuts, we educate them about sleep-disordered breathing, sleep therapy and other things they should know,” he said. “We help them understand there is a difference in homecare companies.”

Internal education is also paramount at Roberts, Kaufman said, because it reinforces the staff’s commitment to quality patient care and customer service.

“At a lot of companies, the only time you hear about quality is when the accreditation survey comes up,” he said. “But at our company we continually strive to put safety and quality in front of the employees. Every morning at 7 a.m. we send out a short message on safety or quality. We also have a company-wide continuing education program so that each employee spends an hour a month with their manager on a different topic of education—this is in addition to their regular department meetings.”

Excellence judges also commended Roberts for its extensive use of activity-based costing in the organization, though Kaufman admits it is now more of a tool to get employees thinking about costs than a regular computation exercise.

“We did a lot of training on activity-based costing when it first came out, but now it is embedded in everyone’s thought process,” he said. “We work on financials each month with every employee. People see what goes into the costs—salaries, benefits, cost of goods acquired and sold, inventory and delivery costs. It gives them an appreciation for it.”

Kaufman—a respiratory therapist who has been with the company 13 years—credits President Lynn Bryson with instituting a “culture of care” at Roberts that can be traced back to 1989 when the company became one of the first homecare companies to become Joint Commission accredited.

“Lynn’s vision is to continually improve by meeting and exceeding customer expectations,” he said. “For me as a clinical professional, I wouldn’t work this long for a company that didn’t have that type of commitment to quality.”

Company: Roberts home medical

Headquarters: Germantown, Md.

Category: Winner, respiratory

Employees: 270

Revenues: $46 million

Professional affiliations: MED Group, AAHomecare, AARC

Community outreach: Annual asthma walk; instruction to fire and rescue personnel on home oxygen equipment; storage and equipment service to ALS Society