Liberty Medical president resigns

Sunday, February 29, 2004

PORT LUCIE, Fla. - The resignation of Liberty Health Care Group’s president after five years doesn’t come as a shock to providers: They describe W. Keith Trowbridge as a “mover and shaker” known for hopping from one company to the next, leaving increased sales and stock prices in his wake.
“He always hits hard and strong,” said Marcus Kruk, owner of the Cincinnati-based HME Services, a provider of respiratory medications, diabetes supplies and CPAPs. “He builds companies up, and then he moves on.”

Although Liberty is best known as a diabetes provider, under Trowbridge’s leadership the company ventured into respiratory meds, and it was difficult not to connect his resignation with the steep reimbursement cut for respiratory meds proposed in the Medicare Prescription Drug Act. Recently, the company pulled television ads touting Liberty Home Pharmacy off the air and laid off 25 of its employees.

It was also difficult not to connect Trowbridge’s resignation with the Medicare fraud investigations that began plaguing Liberty shortly after Trowbridge joined the company.

But Mickey Letson, president of the Decatur, Ala.-based Letco Medical, a provider of respiratory meds, downplayed the connections.

“Keith never expected to be there beyond his initial contract,” said Letson, who helped set up Liberty Home Pharmacy. “He has numerous contacts in the industry, and he probably already has another opportunity.”

Indeed, Trowbridge left the company to “pursue other opportunities,” according to Denise DesChanes, a spokeswoman for the Woburn, Mass.-based PolyMedica, the parent company of Liberty. PolyMedica has named Stephen C. Farrell, its chief financial officer, as president.

Trowbridge’s supporters credit him with steering the company not only into respiratory meds but also into prescription drugs (Liberty Medical Supply Pharmacy). They also credit him with helping to boost PolyMedica’s annual revenues from $157 million to $356 million and its stock price from less than $9 a share to about $30 a share.

Trowbridge was able to achieve that level of success because of his “strong business approach” to health care, Kruk said.

“It can be looked down upon, but health care is a business like any other business,” he said. “[Trowbridge] is always asking, ‘How can I get as many patients on board as I can?’”

But increased sales and stock prices may not be the only thing Trowbridge leaves in his wake, according to those who aren’t as quick to disregard the connection between Trowbridge’s resignation and the ongoing investigations into the company.

Like Liberty, two of Trowbridge’s former employers, Transworld Healthcare and T2 Medical, also came under scrutiny for Medicare fraud while Trowbridge was there, reported Asensio & Company, a New York-based investment firm that researches companies trading at controversial prices, on its Web site.

A provider who asked not to be named said each company Trowbridge goes to, Medicare follows him.