Provider trips onto new market

Saturday, January 31, 2009

NEWBURGH, N.Y.--Consolidated Medical has carved out a niche for itself installing environmental control units (ECUs) for patients, especially those in wheelchairs, who want to live independently at home.

“Sort of by accident, we tripped onto it,” said Doug Crana, president. “The VA was looking for dealers in the area to service their devices and there really wasn’t anybody doing it.”

A voice and switch activated ECU for devices like lights and telephones costs roughly $15,000 and typically takes two days to install. Patients go through an evaluation and then a trial period to ensure they can maintain the speech necessary to operate the device, Crana said.

Crana and one of his technicians became certified to install ECUs with Dracut, Mass.-based manufacturer, Quartet Technologies. Since last spring, Consolidated Medical has installed half a dozen ECUs, primarily for Veterans Affairs beneficiaries, but also for referrals from workers compensation companies and nonprofit organizations like Easter Seals and The National Council on Independent Living.

“It’s not an easy thing to learn right off the bat,” he said. “But once you get it installed, it really does work nice for patients.”

Only a small percentage of HME providers are doing this kind of work right now, industry sources say.  But that could change because the need for these devices is growing, says Jerry Keiderling.

“It is coming,” said Keiderling, president of U.S. Rehab. “A lot of patients are younger, traumatized people who are living independently, but need a little assistance. Baby boomers, as well, like that techno stuff.”

Meanwhile, Crana expects his ECU business will boost his DME sales. 

“If down the road, the patient needs a new power chair, bathroom equipment, or some other kind of assistive technology, more than likely that relationship will carry you through,” he said. “They’ll call you.”