10 Years: Perspectives from the Industry

Mike Ballard: The More Financial Power in the Hands of Enlightened Providers, the Better

Mike BallardThe complex rehab industry certainly has seen its fair share of changes in the last 10 years — some positive and some negative. In as few words as possible, I’ll give my own particular spin on a few of the changes.

The industry is more professional than it was 10 years ago. Accreditation, credentialing and regulatory changes have all “raised the bar,” and for the most part, end-users in need of complex and custom equipment are being serviced by qualified providers. The “dabblers” in complex rehab are pretty much gone.

On the other hand, I am concerned about the number of people obtaining Assistive Technology Professional (ATP) certification who still know very little about objectively prescribing appropriate equipment. I really wish RESNA and NRRTS could combine their organizations and blend the best of the credentialing criteria for the certified rehab technology supplier (CRTS) and the ATP.

I’m so glad that NCART finally got off the ground, and we now have a viable association separate from the HME folks. NCART was a vital force in exempting us from competitive bidding and is really making strides to get us into a separate benefit category. Don Clayback is providing some strong leadership, and I expect NCART will make more progress in the next few years.

The “consumer power” business continues to pollute payors and create funding issues for complex rehab. I think it’s an incredible injustice that a young cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy child who will need to spend 14 hours a day or more in a mobility system must wait 90 days or more to get their equipment, yet an elderly person who may need just a little assistance can respond to a television ad and get equipment within a week.

There is a lot of “street talk” out there about industry consolidation and considerable buzz about all the private equity money that has come in the industry. Seems that every week, we hear about a new acquisition by somebody.

My thoughts?

First: Don’t think that because large investment groups have invested recently in a few providers that it is necessarily a validation of a rosy future for our industry. Wall Street has an incredible “copycat” mentality. Since the ATG Rehab and United Seating& Mobility deals were announced, I have been contacted by no fewer than two dozen firms claiming they want to invest in our industry — but when queried as to why, it becomes apparent they haven’t a clue about what really makes our industry tick.

Industry consolidation can be a double-edged sword. Th e more financial power in the hands of enlightened providers, the better for our industry. On the other hand, if consolidation endeavors to become standardization, then end-users will suffer. I’ve always maintained that unless the people at the top have a true passion for “what we do,” they will inevitably fail or just be transitory players.

As for me and mine, we will maintain our passion.

About the Author

Mike Ballard is CEO/president of National Seating & Mobility, which he founded in 1992. In MM’s first issue, he distinguished seating & mobility from the general DME industry, saying, “It’s not a secret that I believe our business is its own segment.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Mobility Management.

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