Regional associations extend reach

Thursday, January 31, 2002

YARMOUTH, Maine - The role the Midwest Association for Medical Equipment Services (MAMES) played in forming Arizona's state association has shined a bright light on the growing popularity and efficiencies of regional associations.

The Arizona Medical Equipment Suppliers Association (AZMESA) formed late last year under the guidance of Rose Schafhauser, executive director of MAMES. Schafhauser, who's logged 20-plus years in the HME industry, has also been named executive director of AZMESA.

"They didn't want to recreate the wheel, in terms of bylaws," she said. "They wanted to come in and run with it."

MAMES, which represents Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, is one of what has become a handful of regional associations. The Texas-based Medical Equipment Suppliers Association (MESA) has picked up three states over the past several years - Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. And the New England Medical Equipment Dealers Association (NEMED) has its origins as a six-state association, representing Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Glynda Turner, executive v.p. of MESA, said regional associations make sense, considering the recent climate in the HME industry. Due to consolidation, MESA is serving more locations but has fewer memberships (and fewer resources).

"Even when we were separate, we were headquartered in the same office, and administratively, I ran them all," Turner said. "It made sense for us, like HME providers, to consolidate, too."

Rather than struggle to keep individual associations above water, states are realizing the efficiencies of being part of regional associations. Since multiple states operate in the same region and deal with the same Medicare carrier, there are similarities in what they do. Being able to pool resources means getting more of that done.

But then there's the issue of Medicaid, with each state having its own program. Schafhauser said there are enough similarities there, too, however, for states within a regional association to learn from each other's successes and mistakes. Or then there's the issue of several states jockeying for representation by one association.

"That doesn't seem to be a problem and our board doesn't seem to be afraid of that," Turner said. H HME