Lamberts Health Care: Cash, credit or check, please

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Amoment of humble prayer in 1976 turned into a lifelong profession for Randy Wolfe.

Thirty-three years ago, the owner of Lambert's Home Medical in Knoxville, Tenn., had just graduated college and his job searches were proving fruitless in a flat economy.

"Jobs were scarce--I was beginning to get discouraged and worried about my future," he said. "I remember praying one afternoon for God to get me out of the situation I was in and help me find a job and an opportunity. A few days later I found myself at Lambert's Pharmacy getting a prescription filled. While there, the pharmacist, Martin Lambert, said he needed some help with his medical equipment rental department. I took the job and have been here ever since."

Over the decades, Wolfe has added new products and services to the company, including respiratory, infusion, medical uniforms and sleep therapy. As a co-partner, he sold his interest to Philadelphia-based Home Medical Systems in 1984, but he bought his shares back and returned the company to independence in 1988.

HME News: What attracted you to home medical equipment?  

Randy Wolfe: Initially, it was hunger. I needed a job and this business looked promising. Years later, the attraction was no longer just financial. I had seen what this industry really does for people. As a 15-year-old, Lambert's took care of my father who died of ALS. In 1969, we had a bed, wheelchair, patient lift, commode chair, and suction machine from Lambert's for my dad. I was too young then to realize what this did for my mom and family as it allowed my dad to stay home with us and not go to a nursing home.

HME: What did your original product line include and how has it changed over the years?

Wolfe: From the company's very beginning in 1956 and all through the '60s, the business was first and foremost a pharmacy with a mixture of convalescent aids and medical supplies. The durable medical equipment rentals did not come into the business until the early 1970s. In the '70s, our DME product line consisted mostly of Futuro hospital beds, Everest & Jennings wheelchairs, and walkers and commode chairs from Owens & Minor. We also had a few IPPB breathing machines and suction machines.

HME: How has your company weathered all the changes in Medicare?

Wolfe: We have seen a big change in our payer mix as well as the products we offer. Our Medicare revenue now is now down to 10% of our total business. At one time, it was 75%.  In the '70s a person could call us for anything and our favorite thing to say was, "Do you have Medicare?" My favorite thing to say today is: "Will that be credit card, cash, or check, and do you want paper or plastic?"