SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Pull up to the entrance to the Doubletree Paradise Valley Resort, a sprawling oasis in the southwestern desert, and you’re greeted by bronze horses running through a rippling fountain.
It’s not tough to see a metaphor there, given the horsepower that National Seating & Mobility (NSM) commands. NSM founder and CEO Mike Ballard has repeatedly insisted that he wanted to build a company where individual RTS’s are the “stars,” but with currently more than 50 locations nationwide, the rehab organization is also a collective powerhouse that attracts not only hard-core rehab manufacturers to its annual symposium, but also many of those manufacturers’ top executives.
This year’s symposium, March 21-24, started off with educational sessions interspersed with manufacturer presentations from Freedom Designs, Invacare, Permobil, Pride Mobility/Quantum Rehab and Sunrise Medical. Among the course offerings were Goal-Directed Wheelchair Seating Prescriptions by Dr. Donna Jo Blake and Patrice Kennedy, MPT, from the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center; a seating update by Tom Borcherding (The ROHO Group) and Tom Whelan (Sunrise Medical); and what’s become an NSM symposium staple: a talk on “Fighting the Funding War” by Sunrise’s Rita Hostak, president of the National Coalition for Assistive and Rehab (NCART).
“We seem to be an easy target for budget cuts,” Hostak acknowledged, referring to the current state of DME/rehab products funded by Medicaid programs. Hostak also talked about how funding sources have been slow to recognize the vital service component provided by rehab and assistive technology suppliers, the new upcoming documentation requirements for power chairs and other vehicles, and how national competitive bidding will roll out, starting with the 10 largest metropolitan statistical areas in 2007.
The silver lining? Given the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) comprehensive overhaul in rehab areas, Hostak gamely pointed out that once all the changes are implemented, “It should slow down in our world.”
In his annual address during the lunch reception open to all exhibiting manufacturers, Ballard acknowledged that rehab is facing a range of serious challenges. “They’re firing real bullets,” he said. Referring to rehab vs. “rehab-light,” Ballard called on the rehab industry to “toughen up the credentialing” and said he’d like to see NSM do “a better job of aligning ourselves with therapists.”
The reception and keynote were followed by the opening of the exhibit hall, packed with rehab veterans and newer manufacturers alike, many of whom had new products or new information to pass on to NSM suppliers. Keen Mobility, for example, showed off a new crutch (the company also makes wheelchair cushions). Invacare and newly acquired Freedom Designs announced the formation of The Helixx Group, made up of Freedom Designs, Kuschall, Motion Concepts and PinDot; The Helixx Group will be led by GM Chris Yessayan. And Quantum Rehab showed off a pair of new Mid-Wheel 6 power chairs designed to maximize ground contact (and make climbing over obstacles and rough terrain a breeze).
For more information on NSM, visit their newly redesigned Web site: www.nsm-seating.com.