Permobil Welcomes Suppliers, Clinicians to Inaugural Power Surge

Education was undoubtedly the top priority of Permobil's first-ever Power Surge rehab conference in Nashville, Tenn. But professional camaraderie, inspiration and motivation were also on the agenda, as the complex rehab manufacturer hosted suppliers and clinicians for three days at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.

Several hundred participants accepted Permobil's invitations and hospitality, which started with greetings at the Nashville International Airport and perhaps culminated in a stirring keynote address by Marc Buoniconti on the evening of April 8. Buoniconti, seriously injured during a college football game, is president of The Miami Project, an organization devoted to researching spinal cord injuries. His memories ("My life changed in an instant") and visions of the future ("We're funding something more than just hope; we're funding science... I'm here to tell you, you ain't seen nothing yet") ended in a standing ovation from the crowd, which included all of Permobil's employees.

At a time when grim headlines seem to have become the norm for the HME industry thanks to competitive bidding programs and funding reductions, Power Surge remained notably upbeat about the future of rehab and the importance of rehab suppliers and clinicians.

The event's first official speaker on the morning of April 8 was Tom Rolick, Permobil's VP of business development. In welcoming attendees, Rolick donned rock-and-roll-style sunglasses to proclaim, "The spirit of Elvis is alive and well!" But Rolick then removed the flashy shades to deliver a more serious message: "Our industry needs us, our consumers need us, and more importantly, they need us to do the right thing." He proclaimed the event to be about "people who care about the industry and who care about each other."

Permobil President Larry Jackson then told attendees, "I want you to understand what makes Permobil tick." In explaining his hopes for Power Surge, Jackson added, "The idea of this is to re-create the good old days of Medtrade... The last few years, it hasn't been the same."

Permobil is skipping Medtrade Spring and Medtrade this year. "We decided to have our own show," Jackson told the audience in Nashville.

He also countered the commonly grim HME atmosphere.

"The one topic I want to discuss is the doom and gloom of our industry," Jackson said, adding that due to competitive bidding, "I hear 'The end is near.' I just don't buy that. Even if you lose all your Medicare business, you can survive."

Jackson compared recent woes in the American housing market to the current state of the HME industry. "I think our business compares to the sub-prime housing market," he said. "This mess was made because of 'easy money.' Even though rehab was not the abuser of this system, we are paying the price."

But Jackson also pointed out, "People needing houses or buying wheelchairs can't be stopped" and he urged the industry to "stop always looking at the negative, and start looking at the positive."

That general opinion was echoed by several other speakers, including the University of Pittsburgh's Dr. Mark Schmeler, who is also course director for the International Seating Symposium. "It is now time to develop a consensus on what (RTS's) do," Schmeler said. "The wheelchair is seen as a failure of the medical model... We don't have the evidence and outcomes to prove what we do is necessary."

Adding that the RTS position is "barely in our adolescence," Schmeler added, "If you look at the medical profession, they all went through what RTS's are going through now."

Jackson said in his welcome address that Permobil sought to invite some well-known rehab speakers as well as "some speakers you haven't seen before." Presenters included United Seating & Mobility's Kevin Gouy, who spoke on running a successful rehab company; Ohio State University Medical Center's Theresa Berner, who discussed the relationships between clinicians and RTS's; Permobil Director of Government Affairs Darren Jernigan, who shared his own experiences as an end-user; and Washington University's Kerri Morgan, who is an OT and a world-class quad rugby player.

Permobil also presented a $75,000 check to Gary Leo, president of the ALS Association and the morning keynote speaker on April 8. That amount included attendees' $50 registration fees, which were donated by Permobil.

On April 9, Permobil offered additional technical and legislative courses, then shuttled attendees to its nearby Lebanon headquarters for lunch and a guided tour of the Permobil factory. The chance to meet and network with Permobil employees and industry peers was in keeping with Power Surge's theme of celebrating rehab professionals.

"Don't forget: The market will continue to grow for 20 years," said Jackson, who forecast 5- to 8-percent growth annually during that time. "We can really change people's lives. We hope to inspire you and remind you why you're in this industry."

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