Two complex rehab technology (CRT) veterans, Timothy Burfield and Paul Bergantino, recently announced their new venture: the launch of Lifeway Mobility, a southern New England providership of home accessibility products including ramps, stairlifts, vertical platform lifts, patient lifts and bath safety items.
Most recently the CEO of national complex rehab technology (CRT) provider Numotion, Bergantino sees an opportunity to import some CRT ideas into the world of accessibility, while also respecting the fact that accessibility is a technology and business segment unto itself.
A Completely Different Business Model
Bergantino is Lifeway Mobility’s president, while Burfield is the new company’s chairman. Burfield and Bergantino are long-time business partners who launched Connecticut Rehab 25 years ago. Eventually, that company became ATG Rehab, which merged with United Seating & Mobility in 2013 to form Numotion.
Their new company can perhaps be seen as taking over where seating & wheeled mobility leaves off. After optimal positioning has been achieved, and once a wheelchair is providing dependent or independent motion, how can an environment help to maximize the consumer’s and the caregiver’s safety and efficiency?
That’s one of the important questions Bergantino hopes to answer via Lifeway Mobility.
And while CRT and accessibility products have long been mentioned together — with accessibility products largely being considered potential “add-on” revenue for rehab providers — Bergantino suggested in an interview with Mobility Management that the two technology segments are different in critical ways.
“It’s a different delivery system where you have installers,” he said of working with stairlifts and ramps, for example. “Reimbursement is very different. So the whole transaction flow is different. The delivery at the install and even in some cases the sale process is so different that it requires different skills sets.”
But Bergantino will still be applying some of his best CRT experiences to help set Lifeway Mobility apart.
Identifying a Growing Need
As long-time rehab providers, Bergantino said he and Burfield have studied various funding models for years, including a program called Money that Follows the Person (MFP).
“The basics of MFP are really helping people to stay home, and especially when they’ve been recently discharged [from a hospital setting], to help keep them home,” Bergantino said. “So, either help them stay home or keep them home after discharge. There’s some funding to support that, and that funding is in lieu of institutions or skilled nursing facilities, which would obviously be more expensive.
“We thought that because of our background in rehab and healthcare over the years, that we would be able to apply [those experiences] because they are very similar,” Bergantino said. “Very similar referral sources, some similar payors and funding in the mix, and a similar customer base. Because we understand that from our previous industry focus, we’ll be able to apply it here, as well as the aspects of applying technology systems and building teams. We’ll be able to bring that and apply that to this industry and help fulfill that need.”
Lifeway Mobility’s clientele, Bergantino noted, will include “anyone that has limited mobility, regardless of the particular need, age or stage. It could be the child who has cerebral palsy that’s in a wheelchair and needs a lift or a ramp, to the individual aging in place or looking to age in place.”
As part of his “due diligence and work,” Bergantino added that he earned a Certified Environmental Access Consultant (CEAC) credential from VGM Group’s Accessible Home Improvement of America, and a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) credential from National Association of Home Builders, which developed its program in conjunction with AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association.
He explained that the credentials “were very helpful to be able to go in and assess a living environment, a home as an example, to identify the needs. Sometimes the needs are simple, and there can be a low-tech solution, such as removing the throw rug off of the polished hardwood floor, or simple bed risers to elevate the bed and to make transfers easier. Or there can be much higher-tech needs.
“Our primary focus, when I say accessibility products, is ramps, stairlifts, wheelchair lifts, bath safety solutions. So when you’re thinking of the key areas of need when you’re thinking residential, it’s how to get in the home, how to get up to a different level or down to a different level, or how to get into the bathroom, into the bathtub, into the shower. Those are the different areas that we would focus on, and it could be low tech, or higher tech, and that’s where both of those certification processes really help: The application of bringing low-tech and high-tech solutions in to address those potential needs.”
CRT Best Practices
Lifeway Mobility is very different than the rehab businesses Bergantino has launched in the past, but he intends to carry over some best practices learned from the rehab segment.
“We’re applying, in a sense, the rehab ‘team eval’ concept to this industry,” he said. “We’re not just walking in and looking at the stairs. We’re looking at the holistic accessibility needs.
“This team may be different. We’re not going to be in a clinic setting; we may not be in a facility. But the team may consist of a caregiver, a clinician, a home care nurse. So the team may look a little different than a wheelchair evaluation in a clinic, but the concept is exactly the same.”
Bergantino emphasized that while some accessibility businesses circumvent the detailed evaluation of the consumer and the environment in favor of just selling products quickly, his teams will carry out assessments that include identifying a customer’s future needs, particularly if a diagnosis is progressive. Lifeway Mobility consultants will be well versed in the types of conditions typically seen by ATPs, and will approach potential solutions as members of a larger accessibility team.
But Bergantino said Lifeway Mobility consultants will focus on accessibility rather than get involved in suggesting or providing CRT.
“I think our team should walk in every morning and be the best at this one product line,” he said. “And we’ll service our customer better that way rather than trying to be all to everyone.”