Northwest Business Magazine

Success Stories: Freeport Home Medical Equipment

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This Freeport company combines expertise and compassion to best serve the community. Through home renovations and equipment, they aim to make customers’ lives easier.

Brian Borger, executive director of Freeport Home Medical Equipment, and Carolyn Sluiter, company president, work together to provide quality products and services, despite increasing financial challenges in the home health care industry.

Brian Borger, executive director of Freeport Home Medical Equipment, and Carolyn Sluiter, company president, work together to provide quality products and services, despite increasing financial challenges in the home health care industry.

When Carolyn Sluiter worked as a respiratory therapist, she interacted with countless patients through area hospitals, home care facilities, resource agencies and medical supply companies. After more than 10 years of experience in the Freeport area, she recognized the limitations of local home medical supply companies. So, in August 2001, she opened Freeport Home Medical Equipment (FHME), 307 W. Main St., in Freeport, to fill a gap in the marketplace.

Her company’s retail showroom offers a wide selection of medical equipment and home care products designed to improve comfort and safety. From stair lifts, lift chairs and other mobility aids to mastectomy, urological and respiratory supplies and more, all products are carefully researched and selected for their quality. As a nimble small business, FHME has a competitive advantage in its ability to carry new technology, ahead of competitors, at the lowest possible price.

“That is what drove me to do this,” says Sluiter, company president. “I worked for two different corporate home care companies before, and I had no say in the product. If I knew one piece of equipment was clinically much better than another, it didn’t matter – bulk pricing and profit margins determined what we ordered. It’s very sad when money drives a business. Money hasn’t driven this business.”

Sluiter and her team of 13 are dedicated to providing what customers actually prefer. Accordingly, FHME doesn’t commit to just one brand or product line. Its current stock is a reflection of industry research, experience with tested companies and feedback from customers and the greater community.

“From the beginning, we’ve successfully driven the most current technology provisions for oxygen, as that is my forte,” says Sluiter. “Other companies were not interested in doing that, because, of course, newer product costs more.”

Sluiter’s commitment to customer service also means that FHME does its best to bill the “allowable payment” negotiated by insurance companies, thus saving customers from having to pay a difference out-of-pocket.

“I get the same reimbursement that anyone else gets, but I was willing to take on that financial burden to make people’s lives easier and more comfortable,” she says. “I felt that, in doing so, I could go home every day and feel comfortable that I did the very best I could for our customers.”

FHME stands by the equipment it sells, only carrying products it can service and providing all customers with delivery and 24-hour emergency service.

“At FHME, we all care about these people. We care about the community. We want people to be safe,” says Sluiter, “So, I can’t just drop off a piece of equipment and say, ‘Good luck with this.’ No, we’ll teach the customer how to use it and we will work with them until they understand.”

In-store, customers can enjoy product demonstrations before they make a purchase. A mastectomy boutique welcomes customers to discreetly get fitted and cared for by two certified mastectomy fitters.

The FHME team is committed to showing compassion, whether they’re serving senior citizens, people with disabilities or diseases, or people recovering from injuries.

“None of us would be here if we weren’t compassionate people,” Sluiter says. “Many of our customers are overwhelmed and afraid. But our products are tools to live a better life. I think if you handle things right when you’re talking with people, it doesn’t have to be an ugly process.”

Sluiter’s more than 30 years of experience with the industry help her to solve customers’ problems from start to finish, a process that often requires some basic education on the intricacies of a customer’s insurance plan. In the face of an ever more complex health system, Sluiter has learned when it’s best to ask for help.

“About two years ago, we brought Brian Borger on board as executive director because he has very diverse business and financial experience,” she says. “With the increasing hardships in the insurance and health care industry, Borger is helping us expand into new markets and make us a local provider for these markets.”

FHME is now expanding its markets and revenue streams by providing build/install services that make a home more accessible, especially for those who wish to age in place.

“People don’t like change, but we can make changes in the home that make it safe and secure for the elderly as they age or for people with disabilities,” says Borger. “We can make the cost of renovating and hiring a homemaker a lot more effective than moving to senior housing, where people have to walk away from their memories.”

FHME works with customers through every step of the renovation process, whether it’s buying equipment such as entrance ramps, accessibility-focused bathroom fixtures and mobility equipment or installing accessible bathrooms and bathtubs. Borger promises to help each customer find a viable solution.

“We will do an evaluation with the family, and we’ll share what we think are the right options for them, including a quote of the final the cost,” says Borger. “Then, if they need assistance in paying for that, we can talk about different options for financing. All of these remodels can be done really tastefully, so it’s very harmonious with the home.”

About a year and a half ago, FHME became the area’s first provider of products by Inogen, a California-based producer of supplemental oxygen therapy equipment.
These cutting-edge respiratory machines replaced the traditional bulky oxygen tanks and home concentrators with smaller units that create oxygen on the go.
When the products first came in, FHME first reached out to customers who were struggling the most with the older oxygen systems.

“We’ve had customers come in and say they just feel so much better with Inogen products, and it’s because they’re just more active,” says Borger. “The old tanks were cumbersome – having to change the tanks, planning how many tanks to take – and they just felt like it was a boat anchor they were dragging behind them. With these smaller units, they can be on the go more, and when you’re more active, you feel better. That’s the kind of innovative product introduction we do that’s different from the competition. It enhances someone’s life, and that’s why we do it.”

Sluiter finds satisfaction in serving customers with quality medical equipment, and doing so in a way that goes above the big-box competition.

“We are the experts, and I can say that and feel absolutely positive about it,” says Sluiter. “We know our customers, and we will guide people from the moment they come in the door to make the whole process easy and painless with our white-glove service.”

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