Bringing Safety Home

Most accidents may occur near the home, but when it comes to inside the home, the bathroom may be the most dangerous room. Falls are typically a risk factor for the elderly, and drowning is a risk factor for children, but the confined space and the slippery surfaces are dangerous factors regardless of age or physical condition.

Manufacturers have products for all ages and for customers who simply want added safety in the bathroom. "We always say safety is for everybody. You don't need to give a reason, if you just want to feel secure in the bathroom, the products are there for you," said Gloria Querico, director of marketing at Franklin Brass, Rancho Dominguez, Calif.

Franklin Brass manufactures grab bars, tub safety bars, toilet safety bars, safety seats, safety benches, and shower treads, all of which make up its Safety First product line.

Querico said that the product line can assist people who are temporarily injured; pregnant women who may need a bath bar for balance; or anyone who may have difficulty with balance.

"People are just being more sensible nowadays. Why risk injury or slip and fall when these things are readily available and easy to take care of?" said Querico.

Bath safety products are available for anyone who seeks safety and security in the bathroom, but geriatric patients make up the largest segment of the consumer base for bath safety products.

Geriatric patients need bath safety equipment due to the loss of physical capabilities, the resulting increase in their chances of slipping and falling, and the potential risks to their health if they do fall. Any geriatric patient with a disability is in need of bath safety items.

The bath safety products prevent falling, provide assistance in positioning and transferring, and promote unassisted bathing and toilet use. The products help geriatric patients to be more independent and to remain at home.

"We have products for anyone who has a bathroom, but as the baby boomers are getting older, they make up the mass population of consumers right now, so our Safety First line is jumping off the shelf," said Querico.

Skyline Medical Supply, a Springfield, Mass. retail store offering bath safety products, sells mostly to the elderly. "We sell primarily to geriatric patients, generally stroke patients or those with fractured hips or pelvises," said Matthew Crum, general manager.

There are a variety of products available to assist geriatric patients, but the products also can be used for any individual with a disability or safety concern. The following bath safety items are examples of the different products that are available and they are products that can be used for all ages.

  • HealthCraft Products Inc., Glouster, Ontario, Canada, offers the Advantage Rail, a floor-mounted pivoting and locking support rail for people who require assistance standing or transferring. The handle pivots to move with the user and it locks to assist the user in a seated position.
  • Eagle Health Supplies, Orange, Calif., offers the Sliding Tub Transfer Bench, with a non-slip textured seat with large seating area and a shower head holder. It is height adjustable and comes with a safety belt and suction tips for increased stability and safety.
  • Lenjoy Medical Engineering Inc., Gardena, Calif., offers the Comfy Toilet Lift Seat, which can be used over the toilet for assistance in sitting or standing and can be adjusted for individuals weighing 90 to 280 pounds.

Other companies specialize their products to target specific consumers. Wheelchairs of Kansas, Ellis, Kan., features four main products for bariatric patients, assisting them in mobility and transferring.

The Shower Commode chair can be used three different ways: it can be used bedside, in the shower, or over the toilet. It has a 600-pound capacity. The second product is the Folding Shower Chair, allowing bariatric patients to sit down in the shower. The third product is the tub transfer bench for consumers who are not ambulatory. It offers additional features for customization. The fourth product is the BariCommode chair, available in three widths accommodating 600 to 1,000 pounds.

Children with special needs or disabilities also benefit from bath safety products.

Maddak Inc., Pequannock, N.J., offers the Children's Chaise Bath Seat. It has adjustable straps and a four-position headrest that adjusts to various heights and accommodates the growth of a child. It allows a child to recline while bathing and it includes special features such as a carrying handle, a holder for a hand shower and a soap rest.

Many of the bath safety products are offered in various colors to look less institutional and to blend in with bathroom decor. Products for children typically come in bright colors to appeal to the children.

"We offer grab bars in a variety of colors so it blends with the bathroom and it is not this big awkward thing that looks like you are in a nursing home," Querico said.

Marketing Awareness
Although the bath safety market is inclusive of anyone seeking safety, those who need the products most do not always know what is available. Home medical equipment (HME) providers use traditional methods of marketing such as print advertising and store front displays, but informing the health care provider about available products on the market is a common marketing method for bath safety products. HME providers work with the referral sources such as physicians, physical therapists and nurses who, in turn, recommend bath safety products to the consumers.

Crum said his store works with rehabilitation facilities for customer referrals. When a physical therapist contacts Skyline Medical Supply with a referral, Crum typically brings the needed products to the consumer so the consumer does not have to make a trip to the store.

"The retailer makes suggestions to the therapists who do home evaluations so they have a good idea of what the customer needs," Crum said.

Jim Burrow, a durable medical equipment (DME) coordinator at Western Medical Equipment and Supplies of Oklahoma City, Okla., said he markets directly to physicians.

"We work with home bound patients from various home health agencies but referrals happen through physicians," Burrow said.

Add on sales is another effective marketing tool for HME providers. Consumers may be shopping for a grab bar or an elevated toilet seat, and realize that they could benefit from a shower chair or transfer seat. The more common products lead consumers to products they may not have heard of. This gives HME providers have an opportunity to cross sell and to let customers know about the additional products they could benefit from. It is a situation in which both sides benefit: the HME provider benefits through additional sales and the consumer benefits through additional safety.

Setting up a link with referral sources and obtaining add on sales are marketing tools that increase customer awareness.

"I'm sure consumers know about grab bars and hand rails, but as for the other specialty types of products, I doubt it," said Susan Mocek, marketing coordinator at Maddak Inc.

"People become aware mainly when they know they are in a situation that forces them to look for these products," Mocek said.

Ellen Peitz, director of nursing for the Visiting Nurses Association of San Diego, said that a lot of patients are not aware of bath safety and its importance.

"As nurses and therapists, this is something we teach to our patients on a regular basis," Peitz said.

"The problem is, that even when the staff recommends something, the patient often can't afford it; only the occasional patient will follow through with our recommendations," Peitz said.

Reimbursement for bath safety products remains a challenge for HME providers. Patients who need bath safety products may not be able to get them since they are not covered under Medicare and private insurance usually follows suit. Medicaid does cover bath safety items, but this does not help those with fixed incomes who have Medicare.

Despite the lack of coverage, as awareness increases on the importance of preventing accidents in the bathroom, consumers will be more likely to follow the recommendation of a physician or other health care provider and buy the necessary bath safety items. Consumers will realize that bath safety items are typically less expensive than costly home modifications.

Burrow suggested that baby boomers think about long term planning so they can make home improvements that will assist them in the future. Having a shower with just a small lip on it helps those with physical limitations to get in and out of the shower, and if a shower is wide enough a shower chair can easily fit through the entrance.

With bath safety products, many patients are able to stay at home instead of going to a nursing home. The products allow patients to take care of themselves where otherwise they would be unable to so. In other cases the products help home health care providers take care of the consumer at home.

"Bathrooms are a primary need for people. With the right products patients can be safe at home. No one wants to go to a nursing home," Burrow said.

As the aging population grows in numbers, the bath safety market is expected to grow in proportion. Many HME providers expect the children of baby boomers to become aware of the importance of bath safety products as they begin to care for their aging parents. By purchasing bath safety items for their parents, they will learn the products that are available on the market. And this awareness will only increase the growth of the bath safety market.

Bienkowski is managing editor of Home Health Products

This article originally appeared in the October 2000 issue of HME Business.

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