Making homes safer for senior living

Friday, February 12, 2016, Vol. 40, No. 7
By Linda Bryant

Parks

The literal nuts and bolts of aging in place – details such as “age proofing” the home with bath rails and grab bars or equipping it for a person with a chronic illness – can make the difference between staying at home and having to move into assisted care.

The Ledger spoke with Matt Parks, general manager of Nashville’s Williams Medical Supply, about trends in his industry and the needs of his customers, almost all of which are doing anything they can to live independently.

Is your company growing because of the increase of the aging of baby boomers turning 65?

“We have definitely seen our volume increase. It’s not just the baby boomers, but rather the increase in Nashville’s population as a whole over the past 18 months or so.

“The boomers are typically coming in to take care of mom and dad, who are now living with them. Or they are helping them maintain their independence in their own home.

“It’s hard to track actual numbers of people who come in and out of our store every day or who might call in from time to time. However, you can tell just in sheer volume that both the aging population and Nashville’s population in general are thriving at this time.’’

What are some of your most requested services and products?

“We have always tried to be a one-stop shop for our customers. Most of the time you see people who are bringing in prescriptions to be filled for equipment items such as wheelchairs and walkers.

“I would say most of the items people are requesting are compression stockings and CPAP [continuous positive airway pressure] supplies. Sleep apnea is becoming very prevalent in our country, and when a good night’s sleep is at risk, most people will rush over here to get their supplies.

“The compression stockings are a simple way to increase circulation in the legs to offset complications with lymphedema and varicose veins.

“The majority of our customer base is monthly supply patients. These customers file their insurance just like people who go to a pharmacy to pick up prescription drugs. These items include, but are not limited, to ostomy, catheters and wound care supplies.

How much easier has it gotten to age in place at home because of advances in technology?

“We always get asked the question, “Has anything new come out?” To be honest, the old tried-and-true methods that worked 20 years ago still work today.

“We install electric stair glides, carry portable wheelchair ramps, offer power mobility equipment, etc. People can have bath bars installed and use shower chairs to aid in bathing which seems to be one of the most difficult and most fear-inducing activities as people begin to age.

“Those items can make it easier to stay in your home longer, however, it really is the state of mind of the patient that determines how long they can remain independent.’’

How much of a factor is price?

“Price is always a factor for our customers. However, we know that our store carries necessities one needs to perform the daily functions of living. They are more inclined to spend their money if it means they will feel better or get to stay in their home longer.

“They might choose to go with a lower costing cane, wheelchair, lift chair, etc., but they will end up getting something that offers them some peace of mind versus the alternative.’’

Can you give examples of how you outfit a home – from setting up what might even seem like a hospital room to something relatively simple or minor.

“It really depends on the patient’s condition. Mainly we can setup a hospital bed, bedside commode, shower chair and so on and so forth.

“Some people just need help getting over a small threshold in their home which is a relatively simple fix. Others require full support and might need something like a Hoyer Lift [a common brand of mechanical patient lift] to be transported from their bed to a wheelchair or the commode.

“The main thing that separates someone who can stay in their home versus someone who cannot is consistent support from a caregiver, spouse or family member.

“Those who can afford or are fortunate enough to have someone to aid in their mobility and daily functions of living are better suited to stay in their home versus the expense of living in a nursing home or assisted living community.’’

Where do you think your industry will be in five years? Do you think there will be great advances?

“Again, the old saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I’ve been to trade shows and seen some of the “latest and greatest” and they all seem to be inferior to the old school materials that were produced years ago.

“There have been some great little gadgets that have come along such as a scooter that folds down into one piece, portable oxygen concentrators and nebulizers, but most of the items people need to maintain independence have been in existence for years.

Do you have ways of working with people on a fixed budget?

“We understand most people have tight budgets or simply cannot afford certain items that would make life easier. We try to carry as many products as possible to fit anyone’s budget.

“From time to time we have supplies donated and are able to help someone in need when the situation arises.

“We file most private insurances and state Medicaid and Medicare plans allow our customers to offset a majority of their costs.

“Since we have been in business for over 40 years we can often work with people on their co-insurance if they are falling on hard times or just need a few extra days to make a payment.

“We talk to these folks every day and understand that life happens. All we ask is that you give us the same courtesy and keep the lines of communication open.

“The biggest problem we face is reductions in fee schedules from private and state insurers.

“It becomes increasingly difficult to provide a quality product to customers when insurance pays pennies on the dollar.

“We focus our efforts on providing the best possible product for our customers while making sure we are able to survive the current state of the health care industry.’’