The Norco store in John Day will continue business as before, providing durable medical equipment such as beds and walkers, oxygen and related breathing equipment, splints and braces, incontinence supplies and other medical equipment.
That was the word from Wayne Barker, the branch manager at Norco’s office in Bend.
“Things will continue as normal,” he told the Eagle. “Negotiations have completed. There will be no change to service.”
Word that the local Norco store might scale back services to supplying only oxygen had raised concerns with Grant County businesses that rely on Norco for medical equipment and supplies, including Blue Mountain Hospital, which operates Blue Mountain Home Health & Hospice and Valley View Assisted Living.
Local concerns were reinforced after the Norco store in Burns closed, and reduced medical supply service was offered by a respiratory therapist under the name Frontier Medical.
Grant Count residents already deal with the economic impacts of living in an isolated rural area. For hospice and assisted living clients, along with disabled and elderly residents who receive special care in private homes, not having a local store with a ready inventory of special equipment and supplies could mean placing an order and waiting one or two weeks for delivery.
In some cases, residents need access to certain equipment and supplies right away, such as patients returning home from the emergency room or people who transition from assisted living to hospice.
“That could mean longer hospital stays,” Valley View Administrator Stephanie Rodriguez said. “We can’t readmit people at Valley View without the required equipment.”
Rodriguez said she was devastated when she heard through the grapevine that Norco might reduce services. Blue Mountain Hospital District CEO Derek Daly said he began investigating options once he learned about the rumors.
The Norco store in John Day is a “stock point” or delivery location. Sales are handled by the branch office in Bend. According to Melissa Chesley, who works at the local Norco store, the store had expanded its offerings after Darla Carpenter became the manager last year and the local staff expanded to four.
Chesley said the staff use their own vehicles to deliver supplies across Grant County. A van is used for moving beds. In addition to the hospice and assisted living facilities, she estimated Norco services hundreds of private homes.
Barker, the branch manager, said declining reimbursement rates from Medicare and other insurers over the past years have significantly impacted rural areas across the United States. In Central Oregon, the result is that only two durable medical equipment providers remain in business: Norco and Lincare.
Norco’s goal is to provide quality service and still make a reasonable profit, which is increasingly difficult in some rural areas, Barker said. Norco, through its trade associations, lobbies Rep. Greg Walden and other political groups to continue to support rural areas.
“We hope that wiser minds will prevail, but it’s a concerning issue,” he said.
Chesley said Carpenter will continue to manage the Norco store in John Day, and plans are to continue stocking existing inventory and to maintain the staff of four.