What’s in a Name?

Once in awhile, perhaps as often as a solar eclipse, along comes a story so big it overshadows everything else. It is the industry news, and people like me have to scrap our carefully laid plans to instead cover the blockbuster before us.

We had just such a scramble recently, when Invacare Corp. announced it would not sell new vehicles to The Scooter Store. The immediate story was about these two industry giants — the former a publicly traded company, the latter a huge and often controversial mobility dealership. But quickly, the larger story became competitive bidding and the proposed exclusion of complex rehab. The Scooter Store’s objection to a rehab carveout has been cited by multiple manufacturers who won’t sell to that supplier.

In an interview, I asked The Scooter Store’s founder, Doug Harrison, if the industry is misunderstanding or misinterpreting his comments and beliefs on competitive bidding. “Absolutely,” Harrison said. “We don’t like the current state of access to all power mobility products, not just geriatric mobility, not just complex rehab mobility. We don’t like any of that market being underutilized.”

As for that rehab carveout, Harrison said, “We think all mobility ought to be excluded because it is right now so unique to other DME items. It is so substantially underutilized.
“There’s been a little firestorm in what people have tried to read into our position; imagine if we’d proactively campaigned on Capitol Hill and said, ‘Only exclude the geriatric mobility items, the base-level, Group 2 power chairs. But go ahead and bid all the complex rehab stuff.’ The rehab industry would have come unglued. They did, however, exactly that on their case. They went and said, ‘Only exclude us, but go ahead and include the other guys.’ I’m opposed to that. I’m opposed to being the scapegoat.”

Harrison also opposed the terminology I used to describe equipment sold by The Scooter Store. “I take exception to you calling it ‘consumer power,’” he said. “‘Consumer power,’ you mean, ‘They don’t really need one, they just want one?’ What do you mean by that?”

Interesting question. In short, when I say “consumer power,” I mean “vehicles that do not include specialized positioning systems or specialized electronics/driving controls.”
“So, geriatric mobility?” Harrison asked.

“Not always geriatric,” I said. For instance, some patients with multiple sclerosis are not seniors, need power mobility, but do not need center-of-gravity tilt-in-space, adductors, or head arrays to drive. Many MM readers provide power chairs to children. So “geriatric mobility” may be fine vernacular for The Scooter Store, whose clients overwhelmingly are seniors on Medicare, but the term won’t work for MM or the industry in general.
“You’ve clearly hit a hot button of mine,” Harrison said of the “consumer power” phrase. “It’s a beloved, coined term of some rehab people that collectively demeans every disabled senior citizen that we’ve ever helped.”

So — am I contributing to the problem by typing “consumer power”? I’m not bowled over by Harrison’s suggested substitutes, which included “low-end rehab”; sounds like an oxymoron to me. But I do have a new understanding for how big an issue this is and how deep the feelings go.

This reverberating story is likely to impact us all for a long time.Speaking of complex rehab: Check out our annual Seating & Positioning Handbook. It’s stitched between pages 18 and 19 of this issue so it won’t get lost on your desk, but if you prefer, you can pull out this special edition and pass it around the office. www.pressuremapping.com

This article originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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