Industry Newsmaker

Closing One Chapter to Open Another

VGM communications VP Carolyn Cole looks back on a long career helping shape industry news.

HMEB often profiles various industry newsmakers, but it’s a rare opportunity to profile someone who truly makes the industry’s news. Outgoing vice president of communications for VGM Group Inc. Carolyn Cole is one of those individuals.

Cole’s love affair with words started at a young age, and it eventually set her on a course that saw her become a key player within the HME industry’s largest member service organization. Starting at first grade, Cole was writing and illustrating short stories, and her parents — sensing her nascent knack for words — sent her to summer programs, such as typing lessons in fifth grade, early on to foster this literary creativity.

“Between my piano lessons, which started in first grade, and typing, I’ve been pounding a keyboard for about 53 years,” she recalls.

So it was natural that Cole would go on to major in a news-editorial journalism at Drake University. She interned at Waterloo, Iowa’s Waterloo Courier in the summer of 1973 where she was offered a job. She met her husband, Kevin Evans, sharing computer terminals at the paper, and continued working at the paper for 20 years.

“Then I kept hearing about this very interesting company and gentleman in town named Van Miller, and I finally go enough courage to ask him to lunch and ask him for a job,” she says.

As timing would have it, VGM Group had an opening for a public relations director, and thus began what Cole describes as a “wonderful, 19-year ride.”

That said, the trip wasn’t without some potholes along the way. One notable recollection has was CMS’s competitive bidding demonstration in Polk County, Fla.

“Everybody said, ‘It will never work, it will never work, it will never work,’” she says. “And by God somebody was right — it’s not working.

“The overwhelming regulation and reimbursement cuts have been just devastating,” she continues. “And they’ve been non-stop. CMS has been singing from the same page in the hymn book for all these years.”

But despite such a difficult funding environment, Cole says that she never ceases to be “amazed by the commitment of the independent providers to taking care of the patients.”

“When Katrina stuck, I went on an Odyssey with Mark Higley and Ron Rogers, who both are still with VGM,” she recollects. “We drove down, got all the way to the coast, talking to our providers along the way who had down amazingly heroic things — as independent providers do every time there is a natural disaster. … That was a defining moment for me. That changed my life in a very positive way.”

As much as Cole has had a love affair with words and with VGM, she’s comfortable to be approaching retirement. She knows the show will go on.

“When I left the Courier after 23 years, I was amazed to discover that when I left on a Friday that the Sunday paper still came out without me,” she jokes. “Life goes on, and there are some wonderful, younger people willing to step up, and who will step up, and who are.”

Also retiring from the Waterloo City Council, where she sat as an elected council member for 12 years, Cole will continue working on special projects for VGM from home for the next year. The biggest of those projects: a yearbook celebrating the companies 30th anniversary, which will feature close to 900 employee pictures — proof that there is no retirement from working with words.

And that’s fine with Cole, who proudly jests, “I don’t have any ink on my body, but I have ink in my veins!”

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Publisher and Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.


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