Sellers of home-health medical supplies and equipment here say a growing population of senior citizens and a trend of seniors living longer in their own homes is spurring growth in all areas of their business.
They dont expect that growth to slow soon, either.
Government statistics say it will be another 18 years before theres a decline in the senior population, and that bodes well for the industry, says W.D. Evans, owner of Jones Pharmacy & Home Health Care, of Spokane.
The growth in medical-supply sales includes products to keep seniors comfortably at home longer, such as walkers, wheelchairs, hospital beds, and bathroom safety equipment, but the list of products in demand goes far beyond that, Evans says.
Bob McNellis, owner of Peaks & Plains Medical Inc., a Spokane medical-supply business that has stores in North Spokane and Spokane Valley, says, I personally believe that medical-supply stores have to move away from traditional products and into more creative products that allow seniors to live in their homes longer. He says Peaks & Plains sells medical supplies and equipment almost exclusively to seniors and to persons and businesses who buy those products for seniors, and business is growing.
Although one-third of Peaks & Plains revenue comes from the sale of more conventional items such as incontinence supplies, including disposable briefs, panty liners, and bed clothes, its next largest line is medical equipment, McNellis says.
More specifically, he says, medical equipment thats useful in helping seniors to continue living in their own homes is the fastest-growing segment of that business.
About two years ago, Peaks & Plains began selling and installing in-home chairlifts that carry people, normally in wheelchairs, from one level of the home to another. The cost of those lifts, including installation, is about $3,000, McNellis says. He says Peaks & Plains has installed about 50 of the chairlifts since it began to offer them, and demand is rising rapidly. Peaks & Plains has a state-licensed elevator mechanic and state-licensed licensed elevator contractor on its staff to handle the installations.
Peaks & Plains, as part of its growing medical-equipment product line, also sells a large number of electric bath lifts, lift chairs that tilt and practically stand a person up, rolling walkers, electric scooters and wheelchairs, and conventional wheelchairs, McNellis says.
Our emphasis is allowing people to live in their own environment so they can be as independent as possible, he says. He adds, We sell thousands of products that help people to continue living on their own, ranging from spikes placed in the end of canes to prevent slipping in the winter to magnifying glasses and long-handled hair brushes.
Sales of incontinence supplies and medical equipment account for about 60 percent of Peaks & Plains business, McNellis says. He says the remaining 40 percent is split evenly between orthotic splints and shoes, primarily for stroke victims and diabetes sufferers, and miscellaneous medical supplies.
Spokane-based Spokane Home Healthcare Inc., which has retail outlets here, in Richland, Wash., and in Coeur dAlene, also sells a lot of medical equipment, but says its biggest revenue source is selling and leasing respiratory equipment.
Foremost among those items is a device that allows people who need bottled oxygen to refill oxygen tanks at home instead of relying on outside suppliers to retrieve empty tanks and deliver full ones. That device leases for about $230 a month, with 80 percent of the cost typically assumed by Medicare and 20 percent by a patients insurance provider or by the patient. The device can be purchased for about $4,000 at Home Healthcare.
These machines have definitely changed a lot of peoples lives for the better, says Shirley Szabo, purchasing manager at Home Healthcare. She says the tank-refilling machines have been available for only about two years, but some 55 percent of all people in the Spokane area who use oxygen tanks already have the devices in their homes.
The machines, which refill a 2-liter oxygen tank in two hours, can be bought by individuals, but more commonly are rented from Home Healthcare by Medicare, says Szabo.
Brett Setzer, Home Healthcares general manager, says Congress passed a bill this year, in an attempt to curb the governments burgeoning Medicare expenses, that will transfer ownership of tank-refilling machines to Medicare patients after theyve leased those units for 36 months.
Szabo doesnt like the legislation, saying forcing patients to own them will lead to maintenance issues.
Kevan McClarty, a customer service representative at Home Healthcare, says, These units need to be maintained annually. They have internal filters that can clog up, and you dont want them to break down.
Szabo questions whether most seniors are capable of monitoring and paying for such maintenance. Of course, leasing out and maintaining the machines provides a revenue stream for vendors.
Gary Kuck, director of respiratory services at Home Healthcare, says the company also is selling an increasing number of breathing-assistance devices, called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) units, to combat sleep apnea. Sleep apnea afflicts millions of people of all ages who suffer from daytime fatigue and sleepiness because their airways become obstructed while they sleep, impeding their rest, he says.
Sleep apnea causes the heart to work harder during sleepand can lead to cardiac and other health problems, Kuck says.
After a patient has been diagnosed with sleep apnea and has undergone a $2,500 sleep-laboratory test, his or her attending physician typically will tell Home Healthcare or other sellers of CPAP units how to program one of the devices so it will help the patient sleep better. The unit, designed to provide a continuous supply of air through a mask worn by the patient while he or she sleeps, costs about $1,600, says Kuck.
Most people who use CPAP units swear by them, he says. It changes their whole lifestyle.
Home Healthcares sales of things such as canes, walkers, wheelchairs, scooters, and power chairs also are increasing, Szabo says.
Evans, of Jones Pharmacy, says sales of items used by diabetics also are growing rapidly. We sell insulin, glucose meters, and provide educational consultation classes, he says.
Like the other sellers of health supplies and equipment, Jones Pharmacy has enjoyed increased sales of scooters, electric wheelchairs, canes, sleep apnea units, and patient lifts for bathing, Evans says.
Located at 906 S. Monroe, Jones Pharmacy launched in 1971 and employs 34 people.
McNellis founded Peaks & Plains here in 2001 after closing a smaller, but similar business in Helena, Mont., he says. The companys two outlets are located at 98 E. Francis and 13524 E. Sprague, and employ a total of 17 people, he says.
Home Healthcares main office is at 1309 W. First, and its Coeur dAlene operation, which does business under the name Idaho Home Medical, is located at 212 W. Ironwood Drive. At those two locations, plus its Columbia Home Medical office, in Richland, the company employs a total of 28 people, says Szabo.
Contact Rocky Wilson at (509) 344-1264 or via e-mail
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