Durable medical equipment providers — or DMEs — are diminishing in number, both locally and nationwide. There used to be three DMEs in Scott County. Now there is just one.
Yet that one — Buckeye Home Medical Equipment — is not just hanging on, but expanding. Buckeye recently opened its second Scott County location in Oneida, bringing the total number of offices to seven for the Jamestown-based company.
In that regard, Buckeye is bucking a trend.
“We’re the only DME company within an hour’s drive in any direction, and a big part of why we were able to hold on while some other companies were struggling was our patient care within our retail setting,” explained Nick Botts, who manages Buckeye’s Huntsville and Oneida locations. “We’ve always been community-based. That makes it easier for us to take care of our customers.”
The problem facing the durable medical equipment industry in general is the same problem facing the healthcare industry as a whole: changes to the Medicaid/Medicare programs.
“Medicare cuts across the board are a struggle,” Botts said. “DMEs across the country have been closing their doors left and right. At one time there were three companies, including us, inside this county. We’re the only one left standing.”
With 25 years in Scott County and a customer base that continues to grow, Buckeye has absorbed those changes and is now looking towards the future. The reason why is pretty simple, when you get down to the heart of it. It’s an age-old adage that healthcare providers have espoused for generations: Their patients are like their family.
“We know them more on a personal level than on a business level,” Botts said. “I can’t tell you how many times our guys come back from a patient’s home with a jar of green beans, or say, ‘So-and-so wanted me to sit down and eat dinner with them before I left.’”
There isn’t much staff turnover at Buckeye. Botts said that is a symptom of the company’s working environment. “The company has been very good to us,” he said. “Most of our employees have been here 10-plus years. Once they start here, they stay.”
That’s part of what helps Buckeye’s employees become like families to the company’s clients. When Dennis Jeffers, a former driver for Buckeye, left to assume mayoral duties in the Town of Huntsville following his election last year, the clients he interacted with on a weekly basis were sad to see him go. Brad Kennedy, another of Buckeye’s drivers, has been with the company for more than 15 years and is also well known to his clients. And Buckeye replaced Jeffers with Stephen West, who had years of experience as an EMT and already had a relationship with many of the families served by Buckeye.
Botts himself started as a driver with Buckeye, rising through the ranks over the years to eventually become store manager.
“Everybody here is very experienced at their job,” he said.
That pays off when it comes to technical know-how. Regardless of a client’s needs — whether it be diabetic shoes, a C-Pap machine or a lift chair, Buckeye’s goal is that they encounter someone inside the store who can expertly answer their questions and provide them with what they need.
“We have people certified for every area of home medical needs,” Botts said. “We have intake coordinators and billers (Tosha Boshears, Cindy Slaven, Rebekah Smith and Victoria Chitwood),” we have respiratory therapists (Regina Burchfield and Christy Slater) who deal with C-Pap and by-pap therapy, we have a diabetic shoe-fitter (Dee Dee Reagan) and we have certified brace fitters for back braces, knee braces and ankle braces.”
Throw in Maranda West, who handles the company’s marketing efforts, and you have a complete staff. That in itself is something of a trend-bucking effort by Buckeye.
“Most DMEs are stream-lining things,” Botts said. “You have a couple of people per office, not a complete staff like we have.”
On the retail side of the business, Buckeye stays proactive in researching new products to keep on their shelves, Botts said. They also maintain an online retail system — whybuckeye.com — and keep their prices competitive.
“The big-box stores carry a lot of the same stuff we do, but our prices are competitive with the big-box stores and in some cases cheaper,” he said. “And we can knock off the taxes on a lot of items if the patient has a prescription, whereas you can’t do that in a retail setting.”
Botts also touts Buckeye’s warranty service. Every product sold by the company has at least a one-year warranty, and the company will fix or replace it within a year’s time.
Buckeye’s offerings run the gamut of healthcare supplies — oxygen, nebulizers, C-Pap machines, beds, walkers, wheelchairs, and et cetera.
“We have everything from bed sheets and pillows to lift chairs,” Botts said. “Any home need a patient has, health-wise, we can service that need.”
With Buckeye opening its Oneida location — on North Main Street — last month, the company has come full circle. It opened its Scott County office in Oneida a quarter-century ago, located in the building where Andy’s Flower Shop is now located.
“We left that office because we had outgrown it and didn’t have room for storage, but wanted to stay in Scott County,” he said. “Coming to Huntsville made sense at the time.”
So Buckeye moved to the Grace Professional Centre, between Grace Primary Care and Scott County Pharmacy. “And now you could throw a rock hard two times and hit where we used to be (in Oneida),” Botts said.
Opening a second Scott County office in Oneida will better enable Buckeye to serve its clients on the north end of the county, Botts said.
“We know a lot of our patients are in the northern end of the county,” he said. “We can take care of Oneida, Winfield and even some Helenwood patients that are closer to Oneida than to Huntsville. The Oneida office will have basically everything the Huntsville office has, or be able to get it within a day.”
This story is the November 2017 installment of "Business Spotlight," presented by the Scott County Chamber of Commerce on the third week of each month as part of the Independent Herald's Back Page Features series.