At Home with Dealers

Company Name: Affordable Medical Supply

Location/Contact Info:
Owners: John and June McCarthy
Affordable Medical Supply
4255 W. Commercial Blvd.
Tamarac, FL 33319
(954) 484-7599 Office
(954) 484-9060 Fax

Established: 1971

Types of products sold: wheelchairs, scooters, wound care, lift chairs, incontinence products, walkers nurse supplies, grab bar installation

Home Health Products spoke with June McCarthy.

Size of Company:10 employees. We gain around 17 new Medicare patients a week; our sales are equally divided between retail and Medicare patients.

Fun Fact: More than 11 years ago I called around to rent a Quickie wheelchair since I had major surgery on my ankle. With a full plaster cast, I went to Affordable Medical to see what they had. It was my first day out of the house since traveling back from Baltimore for the surgery, and I went into the store on my crutches to find John at the front desk. He waited on me that day and he has been my husband for 10 years. I retired from my job of 27 years to work full-time at the store, and we have found that although there are times that are tense, we have the same goals, same concerns and same overall care for our patients and that makes for a happy family.

Q: How have the recent hurricanes affected your business?
For three and a half long weeks we had no electricity after Hurricane Wilma made her visit Oct. 24. We had to keep the hurricane shutters up throughout the outage because we couldn't activate our alarm system, making for a dark store. We used a generator to run the phone system, but moved all our files and computers to our home so we could work. Our cell phones hardly worked and still our bill for that month was more than $3,500 because that was the only way to reach patients. The deliveries from Medtrade were coming in at the same time. The constant rains didn?t help.

Most importantly, our oxygen patients needed oxygen badly. We had prepared prior to the storm so we had plenty on hand; we had H tanks out to each patient in case electricity was off. All of our preparation couldn?t have prepared us enough for the gasoline shortage to get more oxygen to the patients. We had more than 60 gallons of gas in four trucks, 30 gallons in each of our personal cars, and each driver filled their tanks prior to the storm. We ran out of gasoline quickly. I went before the emergency committee to ask if there was a location for emergency vehicles to get gasoline for live-saving emergencies. They laughed and told us to wait in line like all the others. After waiting more than five hours one day, the gasoline was out before we reached the pump. We made runs to north Florida to get gasoline so we could service our patients. Calls came in from every insurance company asking for help for their own patients, promising to send us checks or give us credit card payments over the phone. Nothing in a manual can prepare for this type of hurricane. You can only think of anything that could go wrong, go over the solutions, ask your employees what they are willing to do above and beyond the 40 hour work week, and formulate a plan. Plan on carrying H tanks up four flights of stairs when the elevators don?t work; plan on late nights and early mornings; and plan on a grand helping of TLC. Carry batteries in your trucks so patients who are older and distraught can have a flashlight at night, and give lots and lots of love. That kind of service is free and the best thing we deliver to our patients every day.

Q: How are customer referrals working for your business?
We get many compliments and we say the best compliment is sending a friend to our store.

Q: What components of your business are working well for you?
Great employees and delivery time. John and I feel if we surround ourselves with employees that have the same natural concern for patients and their family, the rest comes easy. Education is an ongoing process, but genuine care comes from within and can?t be taught.

Q: Describe a unique business opportunity you've had recently.
Unique is having a fire two weeks after a hurricane. A neighboring store in our center had a major fire and we have been without a store since Thanksgiving. When callers ask about store hours or if we have a certain item, how to answer is challenging. No matter what we say —we have no store since the fire —they will still come to the store, call us on their cell phones and exclaim, "You?ve had a fire! You?re not there?" We have gained some very loyal customers throughout this challenge.

Q: What is something you have learned from your experience in the HME industry?
We learned that there are many companies that are cutthroat in this industry and will go to all lengths to overcharge, under deliver and over promise. We also learned that there are advisors, vendors and competitive companies that truly care and will come to your aid. Without this lesson, we would never had been as strong as we are now. I attribute this positive attitude to those people who have helped us carry this burden throughout these last five months.

How do you think the HME industry could be improved?
Help. No one wants me to be in the position to change anything, but I would start with the doctor's prescriptions. Since it always starts there, it has to get easier for physicians to prescribe and fulfill their paperwork in order for us to help the patient. It's very difficult for a doctor to prescribe equipment and then get seven conflicting ways on what the requirements are for the paperwork for an HMO, insurance company or Medicare.

This article originally appeared in the February 2006 issue of HME Business.

The Key to Patient Engagement