Write the check and make the call

Times have changed, but the need for grassroots action has not
Friday, April 24, 2015

Well, I am a few months past a year since I officially retired from AAHomecare and the national spotlight as a spokesman and advocate for the independent HME provider community. A lot has transpired over the past year and much of it has not been good for the average HME owner. I’ve seen many friends lose their businesses, go bankrupt, or give up any chance of financial success just to keep the doors open.

My friend and a former member of AAHomecare’s board of directors, H. Wayne Sale, was forced to sell his business. Long-time providers and friends at Pat Grimes, Inc. were also forced to close and exit the industry. My friend in New Mexico, John Eberhart has virtually lost everything just to keep a business going. More than a dozen other HME providers in Virginia are barely staying afloat, with several likely to close or sell in the coming months. 

Although I am retired from the mainstream world of HME, I do still own 25% of a Virginia HME that is surviving but struggling in the face of having no contracts in Round 2 and Virginia already adopting Medicare bid rates statewide. I watch with angst what is likely to happen in the coming months. 

Those that were not killed by the unbelievable and unfair competitive bidding program have been virtually wiped out by audits that take back legitimate payments on technicalities that are overturned during reviews that now can take years to resolve.

But the gloom is not what I am writing about. I’m writing about the bright spot in the HME world right now and that is our newly reorganized and refocused national trade association, the American Association for Homecare. I cannot say enough about the new AAHomecare, its leadership and staff. 

When the NAIMES board agreed to merge NAIMES with AAHomecare, and I agreed to join AAHomecare as a full-time staff person in May of 2013, I had many reservations about what would happen to all of my friends across the DME world that I had worked very hard for for more than 7 years. In my discussions with the new chairman of AAHomecare’s board, Robert Steedley, my one goal was that AAHomecare had to embrace the small independent provider and make them a part of the association’s family. In fact, I told Robert that I’d work until I was 90 before I would throw those loyal NAIMES members under the bus. 

AAHomecare had to change and it did. New bridges have been built and new alliances forged. For the first time in many years, the major HME players are on the same page and Robert has done a superb job as the chairman. Many have realized, “United we stand, divided we fall.” New major vendors are now supporting AAHomecare, such as Brightree. There is still work to be done in the HME industry, but we have moved the needle way beyond the stagnant years from 2006 to 2013.

It turned out I was able to retire, because the perfect leader for AAHomecare, Tom Ryan, was hired as president and CEO. Even though it was not up to me, I would have hired Tom in a New York minute, and I’m glad AAHomecare’s board made that choice. 

That choice of Tom to run a united and refocused national association has proven to be the right choice over and over. For the first time ever, AAHomecare is being led by a provider. His strong industry skills and his ability to lead people have brought a new and invigorated team of employees that now think like HME providers. The staff realignments and changes have made AAHomecare the quality association that this industry has needed since 2001, and definitely since 2006. Kudos to Kim, Ashley, Beth (although we haven’t met), Jay, and Cheryl for a job well done.

Every HME business owner in the country should belong to AAHomecare and should be proud to have the association represent the industry in Washington, D.C. Every provider owes a debt to the AAHomecare team for what it does for the HME industry every day on Capitol Hill. 

Over many years of writing articles for all of the HME industry trade publications, I have urged support for the lobby effort in D.C. There were times, under past leaders, that I doubted its effectiveness and its vision, but not anymore. I have to give a special thanks to several members of AAHomecare’s board who fought long and hard for the small independent provider, namely, Steve Ackerman, Todd Tyson, John Eberhart and George Kucka.

The very survival of the HME industry rests with the lobby and advocacy efforts of the AAHomecare team and with the members of the association. Nothing happens in Washington, D.C., without the constant and concerted effort of you, the grassroots advocate. 

Think about this: For the first time ever in the history of the HME/DME national association, there were companion bills introduced in both houses of Congress in the first month of a new session. You heard me, the first time ever. We haven’t had a bill with three numbers ever.

Now say, “Thank you, Tom Ryan and the AAHomecare team.” Now, if you are not a member, or you dropped your membership, go online and print the form and join today. You might want to pay twice the dues because they have already earned it in your name in the last year. My name was on an AAHomecare membership for the first time in 1988 (albeit under the NAMES title), and I still have the letter from then president, Tom Antone, to prove it.

The power of this industry is in the grassroots efforts you exert in your district and state. There is no excuse for there not being 300 names on H.R. 184, and 80 names on S. 148 already. 

Here’s the final word from an old soldier, an old provider, and a staunch HME advocate, write the check and make the call.

Wayne Stanfield is the former vice president of provider relations for AAHomecare. He is executive director of the Home Care Alliance of Virginia and co-owner of Prince William Home Medical Supply. He can be reached at wstanfield@hcav.com