by Gail Walker, Editor-in-Chief

Our staff often hears from providers who have discovered ways to improve their operations or increase their profits.

We rarely hear from any of you that it's easy to do those things. Lately, in fact, we hear that the paperwork and rules you deal with on a daily basis are making your jobs increasingly harder, requiring complex processes, checks and cross-checks, more staff, more training — and someone just to keep up with all the changes.

That's why the story of Vern and Ella Shafer caught our attention. Veterans of HME, the couple couldn't wait to open their own company, where they knew they would have to tackle those daily tasks. Yet the Shafers' common-sense approach to running their small business, complete with all the rules and regulations under which it must operate, makes it sound easy.

The Shafers hold a core philosophy that guides their day-to-day activities and is their overarching goal: putting their customers first, always. “If you take the best possible care of your patients, your patients will be happy,” says Vern. “If your patients are happy, your physicians are happy. If your physicians are happy, your business will grow.”

Vern and Ella view compliance with the same attitude. They believe that if you look at the laws and regulations as a guide to serving customers better, then it's easier to understand and deal with them. Explains Vern, “You provide a good service, your products are safe and [delivered] in a safe manner, and you give your customers a fair deal. Put in those terms, it doesn't seem all that unreasonable, does it?”

Of course there is no substitute for the hard work and long hours it takes to run a small HME. The effort that goes into providing extra-special service certainly doesn't show up on any of those forms that you or the Shafers fill out. But it is making a difference on their bottom line. Their new company is expanding in a tough market with some stiff competition.

The Shafers' story, which you can read beginning on page 42, is a genuine victory for “the mom-and-pop way” of taking care of customers and giving referral sources what they need. Sticking with the basics has grown the Shafers' business — and, repeated thousands of times throughout the nation by small, service-oriented HME providers everywhere, it has grown this industry.

“It all sounds so simple, and it really is,” says Ella. “All you have to do is care.”

Let us hear from you! We welcome your comments by mail to: HomeCare, 6151 Powers Ferry Rd., Ste. 200, Atlanta, GA 30339; by fax to (770) 618-0204; or by e-mail to Gail Walker at