You’re an established veteran of the Complex Rehab Technology industry and the former owner of Monroe Wheelchair, which was acquired by Numotion. Please tell us about your history in the CRT space as well as a bit about your time spent as the owner of Monroe.
Westerdahl: I started my career in 1979 working for a small DME company (Northside Surgical) based here in Rochester NY. The owner of the company learned about Mulholland seating systems and thought it would be a good business to get in to. He sent me to a week-long school at Mulholland in California. Back then the term CRT hadn’t been thought of and the business was simply called Rehab. I worked for Northside for 7 years and had an opportunity to join another DME company. Bruce Ferguson, the owner of that company had a location in Binghamton, NY and was interested in opening a branch in Rochester. He purchased Monroe Surgical and we started doing Rehab business in both locations. Over the next 5 years Bruce gave me 25% sweat equity and I became an owner. A few years later he sold the company to Jim Travis and my partial ownership continued until I bought Jim out in 2000 and became a 100% owner. We experienced steady growth over the next 20 years by hiring some great people in all areas of the business and adding locations in Albany and Syracuse.
: Numotion officially acquired Monroe in February, 2020. What factors led you to choose Numotion over others who may have been interested in acquiring your business?
Westerdahl: Gary Gilberti has been asking me for years to consider selling Monroe Wheelchair to Numotion.Gary and I are good friends so his approach was always low pressure.My answer was the same “No thank you” every time.I was committed to remaining an independent.He changed his ask in the summer of 2019 and invited me to just come to Nashville and listen.I agreed and made the trip in September of 2019.In my mind it was an obligatory visit to get Gary to stop asking.Quite honestly, I was blown away by everything I heard that day.I was extremely impressed by Mike Swinford’s involvement in every aspect of the business and by Numotion’s commitment to its customers and employees. One of the most important things to me in those conversations was company culture.We had worked very hard to build workplace culture over the years at Monroe.By the end of the meeting, I heard enough to believe Numotion had built the same kind of culture.On the ride to the airport the next morning I told Gary I was ready to take the next steps in exploring what a sale to Numotion would look like.
What was your overall impression of the acquisition process from a business transition perspective? Was it as expected? More smooth? Less?
Westerdahl: Having never gone through a sale like that, I made some assumptions going in that were far less than the process ended up being. The due diligence process was pretty stressful. And I would be lying if I didn’t say I had some frustrations with the accountants and attorneys assigned to the project. But in the end we worked everything out. I have to say the Numotion team assigned to the acquisition (Sarah Martin and Tim Hayes) were great to work with. They always took the time to listen to my concerns, explain things, and calm me down when I needed it!
I imagine becoming a part of a larger company could be intimidating for existing employees. How has the transition been received by the employees involved?
Westerdahl: It has been overwhelmingly positive. The family culture we built at Monroe Wheelchair fit perfectly into the identical culture at Numotion. That was apparent from day 1. In the first 2 weeks after the announcement, we had 20-25 different Numotion team members in our 3 locations. Each of those people made us feel welcome and showed patience and understanding for a naturally stressful situation. On a side note, thank goodness we closed the sale when we did. COVID shut everything down 3 few weeks later. It would have made for a very different and much more challenging integration.
Numotion is sometimes criticized for its size. What advantages do you believe Numotion’s nationwide service area and technological capabilities provide to our customers?
Westerdahl: Frankly I think our size is 100% advantageous and believe any criticism is unwarranted. Our size, resources, and support give us the capability to provide the best customer service in the industry. Technology was one of the things that impressed me the most in my September 2019 trip to Nashville. Remote Services, Robotic Automation, Business Intelligence Reports are just a few. Coming out of that meeting I realized the great customer service Monroe Wheelchair provided to our customers could get even better.
The Monroe acquisition occurred just before the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The northeast in particular has been severely impacted. What do you think of Numotion’s response to Covid, both internally and externally?
Westerdahl: I have thought about this a lot since we sent 60-70% of our staff to work from home on March 16, 2020. I am grateful for the resources, guidance and leadership provided to us throughout COVID. Without that, we would have had to create all the COVID policies on our own. And we would have had to scramble to find PPE to keep our front-line workers safe. Even the software changes implemented to track COVID impacted orders was extremely helpful.
What do you believe to be the end-user’s role/responsibility in CRT advocacy?
Westerdahl: The National Coalition for Assistive and Rehab Technology (NCART) has been very committed to involving consumers in every one of our initiatives. There is no better person to explain the importance of properly fit CRT equipment than a consumer. I jump at every opportunity to have consumers join me in Capitol Hill meetings. They can share real life experiences with congressional representatives to help them understand why whatever it is we are asking for that day is critical to their health and life.
On that note, CRT users are often somewhat hesitant to become involved in advocacy. What advice would you give to a customer in your region who wants to affect change but is reluctant to become involved?
Westerdahl: Have no fear! I believe most people are intimidated by government. I have witnessed it many times in my Capitol Hill visits. Other than voting, advocacy is a consumer’s single biggest opportunity to affect change in government. The other key is consumer education. Once a consumer is educated on an issue they can become a powerful force.
Despite the challenges of 2020, Numotion’s customer evaluation to delivery timelines are shorter than they have ever been before. In fact, you’ve seen a dramatic evaluation to delivery drop in your region since joining Numotion. How has this decline impacted your customers?
Westerdahl: This statistic is nothing short of spectacular and something our Region is extremely proud of! The Upstate Region (former territory of Monroe Wheelchair) Median E2D in May of 2020 was 131 days. That number was consistent with what we had seen at Monroe for the last 5 years. No matter what we did to try and reduce it at Monroe we failed. December 2020 Median E2D was 71 days. We are delivering product to our customer 2 months faster than we were in May!
Beyond decreased evaluation to delivery timelines, which of Numotion’s continuous improvement objectives do you believe has made the most significant positive impact on customer experience this year?
Westerdahl: Once our team became familiar with the Business Intelligence Reports they became a part of our everyday life. They are used to prioritize and focus everyday activity for almost every member of our team which in turn helps improve customer service. I have also come to appreciate the Customer Connect Program and the immediate priority it puts on our teams for a response.
: The COVID-19 pandemic brought telehealth opportunities into the mainstream. How has Numotion’s ability to provide telehealth evaluations benefited the customers in your region?
Westerdahl: It has been a game-changer. We are still experiencing very limited access to Group Homes, Assisted Living Residences, DDSO’s, and in-home OT/PT evaluations through Homecare Agencies. Some facilities like the MS Achievement Center in Rochester have been shut down since March. Telehealth evaluations have given us the ability to continue to serve our referral sources and customers in many situations where that would have been impossible without telehealth. I am thankful Numotion took quick action to develop the tool and the policies to insure it was used properly.
: Over the course of your career, who have you looked to as a mentor/role model that has helped shape your leadership approach?
Westerdahl: Early on in my career David Miller with the MED Group had a big influence on me professionally. He had a servant leadership approach to business that I admired. Gary Schwantz, also with the MED Group was someone I also had a great deal of respect and admiration for. Paul Bergantino, Bob Hamilton, John Miller, and Gary Gilberti were mentors to me in the early years. And Claudia Amortegui is someone I have always looked to for guidance on the reimbursement side of the business. Many of these people have also become great friends over the years.
What are you most proud of in your time at Monroe Wheelchair?
Westerdahl: I love this question because there is so much to be proud of. Here are a few things:
- The reputation we attained for unparalleled customer service
- Our Monroe Wheelchair team. They deserve all the credit for the customer service reputation
- Becoming nationally known as a leading independent CRT supplies
- Watching our team members grow. It has been extremely rewarding to see their work and personal growth over the years
- Having my 3 daughters come into, love, and make careers out of this business
- Our charitable giving……it was common for us to donate $30,000 - $40,000 to local charities each year
- Branding the Monroe Wheelchair name in TV and radio advertising
- Creating our own software system
- Building a corporate culture of excellence
What would you like to see change in the Complex Rehab Technology industry in the next 5 to 10 years?
Westerdahl: My hope is the things the industry is working on today will be accomplished and implemented in less than 5 years. Here is my 5-10 year list.
- I would love to see a separate set of HCPCS for CRT accessories.
- I would love to see ATP’s be paid a professional fee for evaluations.
- I would like to see the CRT industry communicate and advocate with one common voice. We are not as unified in strategy and messaging today as I think we should be.
- This may be more of a dream than reality, however I would like to see a fast track process to get new technologies considered for coverage by CMS. The amount of time it is taking to get coverage for standing and seat elevation is a great example of why this is needed.