SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — National Seating & Mobility (NSM) celebrates its sweet 16th anniversary this year, at a time when the HME industry is dealing with serious growing pains in the forms of competitive bidding and reduced funding.
As has become tradition for the country’s largest rehab provider, NSM’s rehab technology suppliers (RTS) convened in Scottsdale in May for their annual educational symposium and business meeting. RTS’s were divided into four groups, which rotated through clinical education sessions and sessions sponsored and presented by Invacare Corp., Pride Mobility Products and Sunrise Medical, all aimed at providing crucial continuing education units (CEUs) for attendees.
As a reflection of the current funding climate, this year’s educational agenda included small-group time with NSM reimbursement specialists Marvette Wallace and Kevin Harmon. Presenters in other sessions included Dr. Fred Klingbeil, Laura Cohen and Anne Nagle, who said during her “Move It!” session on power mobility assessment, “It’s only in experiencing movement that we learn about movement… .What if we assume that everyone can drive a power chair until they prove us wrong or we run out of options?”
NSM Adds Pogir “Horsepower”
The symposium, whose theme was “The Magic of NSM: It’s in Our Hands,” included plenty of mysterious and entertaining moments in the forms of magic tricks and demonstrations throughout the event. But perhaps the biggest of all came in a morning gathering of all RTS’s where NSM Founder/President/CEO Mike Ballard stunned attendees by announcing that rehab industry legend Hymie Pogir was joining the company.
As VP of Product Planning, Pogir — whose résumé includes tenures with Invacare, Stealth Products and Sunrise Medical — will be integral in evaluating for NSM the assistive technology being offered by rehab manufacturers. Said Pogir in a news release afterward, “Focusing on product quality and selection are two of my specialties. NSM and I are definitely on the same wavelength when it comes to providing quality products and services. The current issues facing our industry make it more important than ever to be deliberate about the products that we deliver.”
Said Ballard, “Hymie brings a lot of experience to NSM. We’re all very happy to be adding the horsepower. Things are happening fast, and we need to be making the right decisions every time. Hymie is the kind of person that fits in perfectly with our commitment to make NSM the best at what it does.”
Ballard: “This Industry Is Going to Look Entirely Different”
Also a part of NSM Symposium tradition is a rehab exhibit hall, and a lunchtime address at which Ballard speaks to his RTS’s, as well as exhibitors and event sponsors. Given that at this year’s address, the industry was less than two months away from the implementation of competitive bidding’s first round — which would affect some NSM branch offices — the atmosphere in the ballroom was somber and expectant as Ballard took the microphone.
“I started this company in 1992, and our mission hasn’t changed,” Ballard said. Nevertheless, he quickly acknowledged that a lot of other circumstances are indeed different now.
“As soon as we get into cruise control, or close to it, something else happens,” he said. “In the next 18 months, this industry is going to look entirely different. I don’t know how… . I’ve been wrong on how long these choppy seas (will) last.”
Of competitive bidding and upcoming implementation, Ballard said, “The process smells. There are people who’ve won who aren’t in the market…I’d love to see a Congressional investigation of the damn thing.”
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) “has an inbred prejudice about the DME industry because they’ve been ripped off so many times,” Ballard said. “They’re always going to mess with the home-care industry. I believe that. They don’t dislike us; they just don’t know who we are.”
Though he said he believed “most of the people in the home-care industry are good people,” Ballard acknowledged times will be tough in the immediate future: “It’s pretty wild out there, with many, many companies fighting for survival, if not all.” Ballard estimated that within the next four years, “you will have one or two large companies doing complex rehab. This company will have solved some of the problems we have today, and will have uplifted the profession.”
NSM, Ballard added, will be examining the ways it chooses which products to supply and “We are going to be developing rules of engagement for (manufacturers). We are going to have to get a lot better control over the process. We’re going to be more scientific, more clinical and make sure what we buy doesn’t break overnight.”
The rehab evolution, Ballard said, will involve all stakeholders, including industry organizations. “The trade associations have to change, too,” he said. “We have to assess this Symposium….Our partners here all have adjustments to make.”
In the end, Ballard suggested, one of the few certainties is that the industry will undergo significant, perhaps cataclysmic change. “The future of the business,” he predicted, “is going to be consolidation over the next 18-24 months….The day we’re fighting for is when all the bureaucracy is gone.”