Heartland 2017 is in the books. It was another amazing experience in Waterloo. More than five hundred home medical equipment providers spent several days learning, exploring new ideas, getting better at what they do, considering alternative methods, honing skills, networking, seeking best practices and having some fun. We had the support of nearly 100 exceptional vendors who had innovative and compelling equipment and services to offer. We also had the support of 75 great speakers and teachers to push the envelope and inspire us. A state of the art Retail Training Lab was one extra special feature of this year’s Heartland.
But as the picture above shows, we had a couple empty chairs. And that hurts. Don’t get me wrong, attendance was excellent, which was a comfort given the challenging times facing the HME industry. But some great people were not here. Let me name two. Thad Connally and Chuck Vetsch have been at most, if not all the past Heartlands. Thad is one of our industries most strident advocates. Chuck has gone above and beyond to meet the complex healthcare needs of people in rural Washington state. These are two of the best men, and best friends, a person could have the privilege to know. They are the first to extend a hand of help to anyone who might need it. They were missed at Heartland 2017. They stayed home, impacted by draconian cutbacks in reimbursement, to serve patients and operate their businesses.
Bad federal healthcare policy – developed and implemented by both elected officials and unelected bureaucrats – has had a huge negative impact on the home medical equipment industry. In the past five years, 40% of all home medical equipment providers have disappeared from the cities and towns across America. That’s 6,500 businesses gone. In several states more than half of all healthcare equipment suppliers have disappeared as a direct result of horrible federal policy. This forced consolidation and liquidation of an industry has had a hugely negative effect on tens of thousands of people who provide healthcare to our frail elderly and disabled populations. Perhaps more importantly, it has had significant negative effects on several million people who rely on medical equipment, supplies and assistive technology to maintain a decent quality of life. These frail elderly and disabled folks have far less access to healthcare than they had five years ago. Fewer people are able to benefit from advanced home medical technologies. Thousands have faced significant inconvenience of trying to coordinate care delivery through multiple suppliers. Many people are being held in the hospital extra days awaiting medical equipment in their homes. Quality of life has suffered. Our elected officials in Washington must act and they must do it soon. Failure to correct their mistakes will lead to even more severe deterioration of the home healthcare infrastructure in America.