Barbara Smith: HME Woman of the Year embodies focus, fire

 - 
Friday, October 27, 2017

ATLANTA – HME provider Barbara Smith says she’s usually the one giving out awards, not receiving them, so when she was named the 2017 HME Woman of the Year at Medtrade last week, she was, needless to say, surprised.

“I had no expectation of winning,” said Smith, the CEO of Healthline Medical Equipment in Wichita Falls, Texas, where, over the past 25 years, she has worked her way up from sales rep to partner. “Being among the four finalists was incredible enough for me.”

Here’s what Smith, also recently named president of TX MEP, a new state HME association, had to say about what has been the lonely job of being a woman in the male-dominated HME industry and why not being involved in advocacy efforts is not an option.

HME News:When you accepted your award at Medtrade, you said there were few women at the event years ago, but that has changed.

Barbara Smith:It used to be, you’d walk into a room and there were only a few women. It wasn’t necessarily the most comfortable place to be, but you needed to be there. The education I’ve gotten through Medtrade and VGM has been invaluable. A big part of that has been meeting and learning from my peers, and over the years, a lot of those peers have become women. There are a lot of women I admire in this industry; a lot of them could have won this award.

HME:A big reason you won this award is your ability to grow an HME business, despite competitive bidding, audits and other industry difficulties. Healthline has grown from three to 12 locations under your leadership.

Smith:We won contracts for oxygen and beds in the most recent Round 1 and we can’t wait for those contracts to end. We’ve decided to pull back on those, and focus on what we’re really good at and that is the more clinical aspects of the business. We have an awesome team of RTs and ATPs to focus on sleep therapy and home ventilation, and complex rehab. We will do other things, but we’ve steered away from trying to be a jack-of-all-trades.

HME:What has been your leadership style in making Healthline’s growth possible?

Smith:I’ve always thought, if you take care of people, including your employees, business will come. We’ve invested a lot in our employees; we look at them as family. That’s probably been the hardest part of now having 200 employees—we can’t know them as personally as we used to. But we encourage our managers to adopt that approach. We have so many employees that have been with us for 10, 20 years. I was just looking at the roster the other day, and it’s awesome to see that.

HME:Another reason you won this award is your advocacy on a state and national level. With time and money in short supply, why is this non-negotiable?

Smith:Because there are outside forces, whether it’s the government or private payers, that control our business. We’re starting a new state association in Texas with a strong group of providers. We recently banded together on the Superior HealthPlan-Medline contract. I look forward to getting the association off the ground and to Texas getting a voice again. The last couple of times I attended (AAHomecare’s fly-in), it was me and two other providers. Texas is a large state with a lot of DMEs. We should be part of the movement to protect our industry.