Q&A: Simon Margolis fellow John Zona

‘It’s the right thing to do’
 - 
Monday, June 25, 2018

AUBURN, Mass. – As the rehab manager for Reliant Medical Group, a physician practice that does business with private insurers, the difficulties surrounding Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement don’t really affect John Zona. But he still chooses to be one of the biggest advocates for protecting access to complex rehab technology for all patients. Here’s what Zona, a past president of NRRTS who was recently named the organization’s 2018 Simon Margolis Fellow, had to say about what motivates him to keep up the good fight.

HME News: Were you surprised to be named the 2018 Simon Margolis Fellow?

John Zona: It was a huge surprise. As Weesie Walker was talking about some of the other award recipients, I knew who they were, but when she started talking about me, I wondered, who could that be. I’m the kind of person who likes to fly under the radar, so it was a huge surprise. When Julie Piriano received her award she was so emotional she couldn’t say anything. When I received mine, I found my eyeglasses fogging up. That never happens to me.

HME: How’d you get your start in complex rehab?

Zona: It was probably 30 years ago now that I had a friend whose sister had cerebral palsy and was in a wheelchair. We realized that she was more comfortable in a dining room chair than in her wheelchair. So we cut a piece of plywood and put some foam and a cover on it, and she sat so much better in the wheelchair. It took off from there; I just liked doing it.

HME: For a physician practice to have its own rehab manager is a pretty unique setup.

Zona: It is. I was doing some wheelchairs for them and the director brought me in—he realized if they had a CRT person on-hand they could buy equipment at dealer cost and they could get products other than the “best picks.” It’s been a great relationship for 13 years. I’ve done everything from a $25,000 chair for a 13-year-old with muscular dystrophy to a $5,000 chair for a senior in an assisted living facility who needed a way to get from their room to meals. No one has ever questioned the equipment I’ve picked out.

HME: You received the Margolis award, in part, for your advocacy work. Why have you made that a priority?

Zona: When my peers nominated me for this award, they noted that I fight as hard as anyone for this industry, even though the Medicare and Medicaid changes don’t affect me much. They’re right, it doesn’t affect me much, but it’s the right thing to do. And I figured if I didn’t do it, who was going to do it.

HME: When you look back at the span of your career, what sticks out as a bright spot?

Zona: It’s hard to pick just one, but it’s been really neat to see what has happened with technology. When I got started, we had a full shop and we made a lot of things, because they just weren’t available. Now I don’t think we’ve made anything in a couple of years. There are so many companies out there making great things.