Wallowa County man launches home medical equipment business

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer April 28, 2010 04:15 pm

Kevin Warnock runs Wallowa Valley Home Medical Equipment just north of Joseph on Highway 82. KATY NESBITT/The Observer
Kevin Warnock runs Wallowa Valley Home Medical Equipment just north of Joseph on Highway 82. KATY NESBITT/The Observer
JOSEPH — When the Wallowa Valley Health District decided to get out of the home oxygen business, Kevin Warnock was faced with losing his job.

Or so he thought.

Instead, it created an opportunity for him to start his own durable medical supply business in Joseph.

As the respiratory therapy assistant at the hospital, Warnock ran the home oxygen supply department. It always ran in the black, Warnock said of the hospital’s oxygen program, but in 2009, with dwindling Medicare reimbursements, the hospital decided to get out of the business.

“It was a good time for them to step away from it,” Warnock said.

The hospital was also expanding its services to 12 to 24 hours of available respiratory therapy seven days a week, changing their direction and emphasis in respiratory care.

Mike Krepp, a respiratory therapist at the hospital, suggested to Warnock that they start a durable medical supply company together. They were ready to open in spring 2009, but Krepp died in a car accident that May. The hospital put the change on hold, giving Warnock a few more months to set up his business. He opened his Joseph store in October.

Warnock said he brought a lot of his customers with him to his new company, Wallowa Valley Home Medical Equipment. Warnock’s durable medical supply business also offers walking aids, wheelchairs and other equipment besides oxygen. It’s the only business of its kind in Wallowa County.

Without a respiratory therapist as a partner, Warnock has received a lot of help from the hospital’s therapists. They let him know what he can and can’t do without a therapist on hand. He communicates often with the therapists about patients’ conditions and special treatments.

Oxygen must be prescribed by a doctor, and reimbursement runs on what Medicare dictates, Warnock said. Private insurance companies follow Medicare’s lead, for the most part, in determining the length of need and billing schedules.

Warnock said he is starting to get busier and is in the process of becoming accredited so he can bill Medicare and private insurance companies directly.

“It’s a mountain of paperwork,” he said.

“Medicare wants to make sure certain things are in place, and I’m near to wrapping it up,” Warnock said. His accreditation should be completed by the end of April.

While Warnock completes the accreditation to bill Medicare and private insurance companies, the hospital has overseen this aspect of his business. Because of this, his customers have not had an interruption of service.

The medical supply business wasn’t the first time a friend had suggested a career change to Warnock. He had been an EMT for several years when he was recommended to apply for the respiratory therapy assistant position at the hospital. The friend said, “You understand oxygen and safety and know where everyone lives.”

Warnock had been working for almost 10 years in the bronze foundries of Joseph and had volunteered as an EMT and a Joseph city firefighter when the suggestion was made. With the extensive background in emergency medical services, the new job was a perfect fit.

“I enjoyed working for the Health Care District. I believe in the need for a hospital around here. If we didn’t have a hospital here, we’d have a lot of problems.”

Warnock has also served on the Joseph City Council and as mayor and is aware of the needs of the community at large.

“Without a hospital it would change the whole scope of emergency medicine.”

Warnock is a third-generation Wallowa County resident and has not only had the luxury of living in the upper Wallowa Valley most of his life, but he has seen it all from the top of Mount Howard. As a child, his parents managed the snack bar at the top of the Wallowa Lake gondola. As a teen he began working with them and continued after high school and again after he returned from three years in the Navy.

The appreciation for the landscape has kept his career, volunteer work, family and recreation time in balance. He spends as much time as possible in the outdoors. He and his wife, Donna, daughter, Mariah, and son, Christopher, enjoy camping and golfing together.

“If you have to work seven days a week or sit inside for work, you might as well live in Portland or somewhere else,” he said.