Apria’s Dan Starck on silver linings on a silver anniversary

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Thursday, July 2, 2020

LAKE FOREST, Calif. – A global pandemic wasn’t exactly a consideration in the company’s contingency plans, but as it celebrates its 25th anniversary, Apria Healthcare CEO Dan Starck says it has always paid to be prepared.

The company began monitoring the pandemic early on and by the time the severity of it became clear in mid-March, Apria switched into high gear, increasing its inventory of PPE and moving 60% of employees to work from home in one to two weeks.

“There were people who thought we were doing the right thing and people who thought we were overreacting,” Starck said.

Apria was formed in 1995, when Homedco Group and Abbey Healthcare merged. It has more than 6,500 employees and serves more than 1.8 million patients each year through 275 local branch offices.

If there’s one thing the pandemic has highlighted about the HME industry, it’s the ability to shift gears so quickly, responsibly and without a decline in patient care. That should bode well for the future of HME, Starck says, if CMS is paying attention.

“If CMS realizes that people behave themselves with a little bit of latitude and the best interests of the patient in mind, the system doesn’t crumble,” he said. “We’ll have to see how far the barriers go back up, but CMS has hinted that it doesn’t have to go back to the way it was.”

While Apria is a big business with a national scale, Starck says the company likes to think of itself as 275 small businesses.

“The last couple of years, (when we look at) our offerings in the market, we want to have a local feel and we want to be there and part of that community,” he said. “And yet, we want to have scale in terms of supply and purchasing.”

That scale has helped Apria step up in times of disaster, like the northern California wildfires in 2019, Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Starck credits employees for stepping up to whatever the occasion demands.

“They go above and beyond,” he said.

Natural disasters aside, Starck says the biggest issue that’s cropped up in his tenure remains man-made: Medicare’s competitive bidding program.

“We had to make major changes for bidding and we had to figure out how do we provide for patients and employees and we had hard choices to make,” he said. “Those things drove us to being a sustainable brand and company.”

Likewise, Starck says, the changes wrought by the pandemic will force the HME industry further into a position of strength and efficiency, as the preferred site of care pushes further into the home.

“It won’t be a straight line to success—it never is,” he said. “There will be twists and turns, but I’m very optimistic where the industry is headed short term and in the next 10 to 20 years.”