SCRANTON, PA – When you work at an establishment that’s been around for more than a hundred years, the urge to fight for that business may come a bit easier. As vice president of Andrew Brown’s Drug Store, Scranton, Pa., Robert Brown feels the pull of history, and it’s one of many reasons he continues to advocate on behalf of the industry.
“These days there are a lot fewer voices crying in the wilderness,” says the 63-year-old Brown, who also serves as chair of the American Association for Homecare’s (AAHomecare) Complex Rehab and Mobility Council. “If government officials don’t hear your voice, they’re not going to know there’s a problem.”
Back when Brown’s grandfather started the single-location business in 1912, it may have been impossible to foresee the necessity for legislative advocacy. Particularly over the past dozen years, such ambiguity dissolved with the advent of competitive bidding, the reviled program that still causes its share of misery. “Twelve years ago in the city of Scranton—not counting major nationals—I had five competitors,” reveals Brown. “Now there is nobody left.”
The turn of events may be a competitive advantage of sorts for Brown, but he does not see it in those terms. Instead, he has seen patient access issues pile up over the years. “In round one, from 2013 to 2016, if somebody was discharged from the hospital on Medicare for a nebulizer, there was no physical location in Scranton, Pa., to get a nebulizer,” Brown laments. “The closest place was Wilkes-Barre, which is 25 miles south, and there was only one physical location in the entire competitive bid area.”
It can seem futile at times, but Brown’s default mode tends toward determination, and he’s not about to stop now. “The reason I got involved was to be an additional voice, and the more voices the better,” he says. “There are more battles to fight. For example, the AAHomecare Payor Council is working to educate all of the state Medicaids about the perils of sole source. You try to make them realize that if you’re spending Pennsylvania taxpayer dollars for Pennsylvania beneficiaries, you should be spending it with Pennsylvania companies, as opposed to Florida companies or Texas companies or Michigan companies.”
Occasionally people ask Brown when he’s going to retire, but the HME veteran continues to gain satisfaction in spite of the legislative hurdles. “There are frustrating aspects that make it difficult to want to stay in the business,” he muses. “But the part that wants to keep you in the business is that you’re helping people stay in their home. Nobody wants to go into a nursing home, and on the business end, that’s going to create a tremendous opportunity.”