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Many dimensions to home accessibility

Many dimensions to home accessibility

“Aging in place” is really what the home medical equipment field is all about. Enabling seniors to live in their own homes safely and comfortably can alleviate the need for them to move into assisted living or skilled nursing facilities, leading to happier, more satisfying lives. 

One major obstacle to creating a manageable living space is the inaccessibility of many homes – especially older homes. Some projects may require major modifications to both exterior and interior, while others may only need minor reconfigurations. It is a field of many dimensions and HME providers serving the market need to determine which elements best fit their business model. 

Dan Radacosky, regional vice president of sales for Auburn, Wash.-based EZ-ACCESS’s West Region, describes the vast scope of the home accessibility category this way: “There are a few main categories of problems to solve for those seeking to age in place. The first is simply ingress and egress. One cannot have true independence without being able to get in and out of the home. The second is access to all parts of the home – to be able to get through doorways and to get to different levels of the home. The third is usability. This spans a wide range of issues, such as being able to utilize all areas of the bathroom and being able to reach cabinets and appliances so the resident can live with a minimal amount of assistance.” 

Any home modifications must be rooted in safety and access while focusing on the future, added Simon Vermooten, national sales manager for Pilot Stairlifts, a division of Fort Myers, Fla.-based Merits Health Products. 

“’Trip and fall’ is the most common injury suffered, so modifications have to address this first,” Vermooten said. “When addressing aging in place, the solution has to address the future, not the present. Creating a suitable aging in place home today will not meet the requirements of tomorrow as the requirements change.” 

Providers working in the home accessibility field then need to develop a comprehensive plan that takes physical capability and medical condition into consideration and what the condition looks like as it progresses, he said.  

Elaborating on the types of assessments HME providers need to make when contemplating a project, Lawrence de la Haba, senior vice president of business development for Atlanta-based Graham-Field, ran down a list of questions prospective customers need to ask. 

“The most basic is ‘Can I or my family member remain at home to begin with?’” he said. “Are my physical limitations, mobility, sight, hearing, ability to cook, eat and bathe serious enough to preclude me from remaining at home, even with help?” 

Once this assessment is made, the HME provider can then review the appropriate course with the customer, de la Haba said, adding “Many people do not know about the wide range of products that are available.” 

Service decisions 

Because home accessibility is a deep field and requires skills outside the typical HME provider’s range, there are a host of questions that need to be answered about which services to provide and which a third-party contractor should handle. 

Steve Dawson, CEO of Sarasota, Fla.-based Harmar, says it depends on the strategy, resources, and capabilities of the HME provider.  

“The advantage to being a ‘total solution provider’ is having a lower initial customer acquisition cost,” he said. “This way, an HME provider can assist a customer earlier in the aging-in-place process and continue to furnish solutions as the customer’s needs evolve. Being a specialist can help with cost efficiency in terms of product selection, expertise, and installation. By focusing on delivering a superior customer experience, it may be easier to command better market pricing.” 

Using contractors for home renovations makes sense because they have expertise to navigate the permit process and code issues those projects require, de la Haba said. However, “finding a contractor who understands how to make a home more accessible is not easy.” 

What’s more, timing is a critical consideration for more extensive projects because “the person may be discharged from the hospital or skilled nursing facility in a week and modifying a home properly may take months,” de la Haba said. 

 Gary Caldwell, regional vice president of sales for EZ-ACCESS’s east region, maintains that service assignments can vary by specific channels. 

“Private payers tend to prefer a single contractor who can address all of their specific needs,” he said. “Funding sources, on the other hand, are more willing to have multiple specialists address individual categories of needs.”


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