Technical know-how put techs in driver's seat

Monday, October 31, 2005

YARMOUTH, Maine - Qualified delivery techs appear to be running in short supply in Chicago. A recent help-wanted ad in a Chicago paper enticed potential drivers with sign-on bonuses, full bennies and a 401(k).
The shortage, while not epidemic, does highlight the struggle HME providers often face when looking for qualified drivers to represent their company in the community.
"We haven't had high turnover but when we've tried to recruit, we got minimal response," said Larry Loewen, vice president and COO of Mitchell Home Medical in Ypsilanti, Mich. "We got a lot of people that weren't qualified."
When a delivery tech transports equipment to a patient's house, the job doesn't stop at the door.
"It's not like delivering Pepsi to grocery stores," said Tom Inman, president of Virginia Home Medical in Newport News, Va. "As accreditation is starting to catch on, it has really impacted the skill set necessary to be in this business."
He estimates it takes three to six months to really train a driver and that mechanical ability and people skills are key.
"They're our network medical supply face," said Rick Perrotta, president of Network Medical Supply in Charlotte, N.C. "They're the ones who are meeting and serving the customers."
Perrotta pays his drivers around $20 an hour plus full benefits, higher than the industry average of $12 to $15.
"For us, we look at our drivers as being just as valuable as any employee," said Perrotta. "They are not the guys on the bottom of the ladder. They are a very important part of our team."
Requirements for drivers vary, but a high school diploma or equivalent, clean driving record and some delivery experience is generally required. Drivers undergo thorough background checks, including fingerprinting required by the Department of Homeland Security.
"We do a statewide criminal check, and a credit check," said Loewen. "We do a physical exam. We want to see if there is any preexisting condition that would prohibit working."
AAHomecare offers a nationwide certification program for drivers. Certification rules vary by state but JCAHO takes driver certification into consideration when companies are reviewed for certification, said Terri Judd, assistant director of education and meetings for AAHomecare.
"When you go into their homes, you have to have respect going into their homes, how to handle a situation if you have an angry spouse. They all get that," said Judd. "Safety of the patient is No. 1."