‘Life has changed’ for HME providers

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Friday, August 28, 2020

YARMOUTH, Maine – What’s it like to be an HME provider in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic? It runs the gamut from watching your business dry up, to feeling like the mask police to not being able to hug your mom. 

“Life has changed,” wrote Richard Burks in Kansas in response to a recent HME Newspoll. 

Business fluctuations 

While providers report increases in referrals for home oxygen therapy, one of the front-line therapies for COVID-19, referrals for most everything else have been slow to pick back up, even now that some physician offices are back open. 

“The DME business has been hit hard,” wrote Chris Rice in California. “If a physician’s office is open, they are seeing only a limited number of patients per day. We’re also hearing that the number of telemedicine appointments has been falling off. We believe that patients may be shifting from their regular physician to app-based systems like Teledoc. The result? Fewer orders for DME.” 

Retail bright spot 

A number of providers reported, however, that their retail businesses have brightened back up, like Josh Turner in Alabama, who reported two back-to-back record months in retail sales. 

“We have strategically diversified our offerings over the last 10 years, positioning the company to not be reliant on the insurance referrals,” wrote Andy Alvarez, another provider in Alabama. “Because of our diversification, we had about a four-week slow down, but (our) retail and hospice activity has flourished because of COVID-19.” 

Masked up 

Providers report requiring visitors to their stores and their employees to wear masks. For one provider, that’s regardless of the relatively low number of cases in their area. 

“That hasn’t stopped us from screening at the front door, taking temperatures and getting names of those entering our store,” wrote one respondent in Minnesota. “We are requiring masks for those who enter and also employees that are in front of patients have to wear manufactured masks vs. source masks. Whenever we are within six feet of each other or unable to social distance, employees are wearing masks.” 

Not everyone’s a fan of the policy: “(There are) some complaints about mask wearing requirements in (our) retail store,” wrote one respondent in Florida. 

Personal toll 

A number of providers shared the personal toll of being an HME provider – as a company leader and as a family member. 

“I worry that one of our employees will bring it into the store and infect everyone else, causing us to shut down,” wrote one respondent in Washington state. “But what can I do about it? I can’t police everyone’s off-work time other than to stress how dangerous this all is to everyone. While I see her occasionally, I haven’t given my mom a hug since…I don’t know when. How long can any of us live like this?”