Medicare Cuts Blamed for Shuttering Professional Medical's Doors
“Thank you and I want to also thank everyone on Bob’s behalf for their business, loyalty and trust. Bob loved San Angelo and he cared about every patient and everyone in it,” Lynnette George, owner of Professional Medical, said yesterday as she talked about the business shuttering its doors today after 43 years of business.
Framed newspaper articles, pictures and certificates from every decade since the 70s dress the office hallway at Professional Medical. They tell the history of the business owned and operated by the dark haired man in the pictures, Bob George, who started a company in his garage.
“It started out small and it was called Bob George and Associates,” Mrs. George said smiling in fond remembrance of her husband. “The business was built and he got a little office, I think it had two rooms. He still worked for Shannon at that time.”
Bob was the head of the cardiology department for many years at Shannon Medical Center, as well as a respiratory therapist. Little did he know that his garage business endeavor would be the catalyst for a successful legacy that expanded to four other locations, and touched the lives of many.
Bob was so personable with patients he spoke with them regularly on the phone. That is how Lynette McDonald, general manager, first made contact with Professional Medical as a patient in need of oxygen.
“A couple of months later there was an ad in the paper for a job here, and my husband said you should check it out, even though I really didn’t want to,” McDonald said laughing. “I wanted to stay at home but couldn’t afford to do that. I came in to pick up the application I wasn’t even dressed for job hunting really. I was asked to fill out the application on the spot and I did. And 18 years later here we are! It’s hard to believe.”
Lynnette George has been leading the business solo since 2009 when Bob passed away. Professional Medical carries respiratory supplies, bath and mobile aids, nebulizers and almost everything that aids in a person's wellbeing and/or recovery. She took every action necessary to save her ship by making cuts in inventory and other expenses. Last year she was forced to lay off employees and eventually shut down the branch stores.
“It’s been in my head that this may happen for a while because it’s hurt us a lot the last few years, it hasn’t just been recent it’s been an accruing thing,” Lynnette George said. “I’ve just been trying to keep it going because I didn’t want to let everyone go. We have employees here that have been her for years and wanted to retire us and I didn’t want to let them go. So, it’s been in my head a few years. But when I found out about next year and the (Medicare) cuts again in January and July, that’s when I decided I can’t do it anymore. It just won’t work anymore.”
Medicare reimbursement cutbacks have snowballed over the past few years making it more and more difficult for smaller family-owned medical businesses like this one to stay afloat.
Medicare covers 80 percent of medical equipment expenses for the patient. Medicare in turn reimburses the equipment companies for their products. Since the 90s there have been cutbacks. McDonald says she has noticed an alarming trend over the course of her 18 years in the medical supply world.
“The equipment that was utilized most, the more the patients got these same items across the board, the reimbursement would drop. They just paid less and less of the cost back to the supplier, us. We would take a five percent hit here, two or three percent there and it just kept going.”
Until eventually the cuts got so deep they cut this well-rooted, family owned, local business to its core, leaving the owner no choice but to close the doors. It is a grim sign for any family owned medical supply businesses everywhere, resonating the message that if your pockets are not of a large corporation's size you will no longer succeed in this business.
“It’s easy for them to hit the [small] medical equipment suppliers and privately-owned home health care because we don’t have a voice in legislation,” said McDonald. “I think that they believe that the fewer suppliers there are, the less they will have to police, because there are certain rules and regulations we have to adhere by.”
Both Lynnette George and McDonald had ideas as to what has caused the substantial cutbacks in Medicare reimbursement.
“There was a lot of Medicare fraud, but it’s because they (the government) didn’t oversee their own program effectively and now they are punishing everybody for it,” said Lynnette George. “Instead of just taking the measures to police it in the first place where you don’t end up with millions of dollars of problems.”
Lynnette George said that a couple of larger companies offered to buy her out, which she refused.
“They would just come in and pay you a tiny percentage of whatever and then end up getting rid of all of your employees,” she said in a disapproving tone. “…that’s Professional Medical, that’s Bob’s name, we wanted to do it right, the way he would have done it. I didn’t want to sell to some people coming in trying to get the Professional Medical's name, and get our Medicare number and then fire everybody and then do whatever they wanted to and ruin his name.”
“I have never been in a position of being in charge of people’s livelihoods and I don’t like it,” Lynnette George said solemnly. “It was a very hard decision. And the employees and customers all understand it and we appreciate it, but it still does not make it any easier.”
The staff at Professional Medical has become a family over the years. Mrs. George spoke of her staff as if they were all her kids, saying that she worried much in the beginning when she had to break the news to them about losing their jobs, but that they are all good and smart and will all move on to better things.
“The warehouse guys are all wonderful. They fix everything from the equipment to our computers, and even shrink-wrap my Christmas tree every year,” said Lynnette George.
“Russ works in the warehouse and he is wonderful with the patients, they love him and a lot of them wanted to know where he was going to be working so they could do business with those companies just to see him,” McDonald said.
Donna, who was the Professional Medical respiratory therapist for almost a decade, will be starting her retirement, Lynnette George said. Having an RT on staff was something that Bob implemented long before it was a state regulation at have one if you are selling oxygen equipment, as he always had the best interest of the patient at heart, George said.
Professional Medical not only prepared their staff for the closing, but the patients too, by sending them notice and transitioning them to new providers, also something else Lynnette George said could not be trusted to a buyout.
The word retirement is not in her immediate future.
“I don’t want to retire, I’m not ready. I’ve got a part-time job to keep me busy,” Lynnette George said. “I think I’m the only person to ever say they don’t want to retire, but I just don’t I just want to do. I will stay busy.”
She also said that she has had offers for the building, as she does own it, but isn’t interested in selling. “I will just lease part of it out and see how that goes. It depends on who comes in and what they are interested in, but that’s a few months down the road."
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