NSM taps new exec

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Sandi Schwartz first combined her desire to serve others and take charge at age 10, when she was named a Girl Scouts troupe leader. She hasn't looked back since, mapping out a career for herself in health care. She started off as a clinician but worked her way through the ranks to managerial and then executive-level positions at several large healthcare-related companies. Now that she's the new COO at National Seating & Mobility, Schwartz plans to continue what she began many years ago, keeping her eyes on the company's patients while shepherding NSM to a new level of operational efficiency. Here's what she had to say when HME News caught up with her recently.
HME News: As a speech pathologist by trade, how much exposure did you get to the world of power wheelchairs?
Sandi Schwartz: Even as a speech therapist, when I worked in rehab hospitals, I was involved in seating clinics, because of the augmentative communication devices that often become part of a chair. I really saw how much a seating system could make a difference, not only in a patient's self-confidence but also in his ability to be independent.
HME: I'm sure you had some catching up to do before joining NSM?
Schwartz: A little bit. I've had to learn that there are very fine differences between some of the products that we provide. But I'm very comfortable with evaluations, insurance verifications and making sure that patients get what they need.
HME: What do you bring to NSM?
Schwartz: NSM has a deep, personal culture--it's wonderful and has really helped with loyalty, growth and high quality service. That's one of the things that attracted me to the company. But NSM is approaching $100 million, so it's not a small company any more. Some of the experiences that I've had will bring a new level of insight.
HME: Considering the year that the rehab industry had--new codes, pricing and coverage criteria--where should NSM and other rehab providers focus their attention in 2007?
Schwartz: We need to make sure that we're balancing the things that no one ever wants to talk about--documentation, clinical outcomes, how much it costs to provide services--with quality. We need to make sure that we have an arsenal of information to support what we do and how we do it. At the same time, we can't lose sight of focusing on high quality service. My philosophy in rehab and every field I've worked in is, "Do good to do well." That's what brings the people to you in the first place.
HME: Speech therapy is a highly regulated profession. Do you see rehab moving in that direction?
Schwartz: When I started as a speech pathologist, you had to have a master's degree and you had to be certified by the American Speech and Hearing Association. But you didn't have to be licensed, except in a few states. Due to fraud and abuse, all states now have licensure requirements. I wouldn't be surprised if states begin requiring that of rehab professionals. It's nice when someone brings credentials and ethics to the table. It also commands a certain amount of respect, and I think RTSs deserve that level of respect.
HME: Besides professionalism, does the therapy world hold any other insights for the rehab world?
Schwartz: Right now, the reimbursement arena for rehab is so volatile. It's interesting. In 1998--99, the government tried to figure out how to bundle speech and PT/OT by breaking down the acuity of patients into care minutes. They rolled out a new system, but they had to retract it six months later, because it was so convoluted. The acuity level of patients in long-term care actually went up, because they couldn't get the care they needed, and it ended up costing more. The lesson learned is to persevere. As you collect data and analyze and sanity check it--if you find that something's not right, don't just settle. Push back, so that you can continue providing high quality service at a reasonable cost.