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Archive for Friday, April 3, 1998

COMPANY SEES NICHE IN AGING POPULATION

April 3, 1998

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Rehab Designs supplies what are known as orthotics and prosthetics.

Artificial limbs are big business.

As the nation's population ages, demand for such devices -- known as prosthetics and orthotics -- is booming.

And one of the industry's biggest players -- Lenexa-based Rehab Designs of America -- has moved into the Lawrence market.

``This is one area where there is likely to be high demand because of the aging population,'' said Jean Ann Bailey, business development director for Rehab Designs.

The company opened a clinic at 1112 W. Sixth St. last month. For the past two years, it had been offering its services one day a week from an office at Mount Oread Health Center. Otherwise, patients had to travel to Kansas City or Topeka.

Rehab Designs supplies what are known as orthotics and prosthetics. Orthotics are braces for hips, knees, legs, backs or other body parts that need support. Prosthetics are artificial limbs. The company makes the items or customizes them at its laboratories.

The business is not new, but the national approach is.

``This has been somewhat a cottage industry in that it used to be done by an individual and the trade would be passed down'' to family members, Bailey said. But trends in the health care business and the nation's population patterns are changing all that.

Like others in health services, Bailey said, orthotics and prosthetics providers are expanding and consolidating to meet the demands of managed care companies, who like to deal with large numbers of patients and care givers.

Also, as baby boomers age, more will have use for orthotics and prosthetics, said Bob Nunley, a Kansas University demographer.

``Their reading of that demographic is exactly right,'' he said. The number of people likely to need such devices has been rising steadily for the past several years, Nunley said, and the market will grow even more in coming years.

Rehab Designs was founded in Overland Park in 1990. Then, it specialized in customizing wheelchairs for disabled children. Five years later, it began focusing on orthotics and prosthetics.

It has grown through acquisition, gobbling up companies in California, Wisconsin, Colorado and Texas. In the past three years, it's made 22 acquisitions and now operates 54 patient care centers. Now, it's one of the nation's three biggest orthotics and prosthetics firms.

The privately held company is considering raising funds through a public offering. Some estimates put its annual revenues at $40 million. But it plans to double in size during the next year and wants to have more than 200 patient care centers by 2000.

Orthotist Brad Oja works full-time in the new Lawrence office. Another practitioner -- prosthetist Doyle Collier -- is in the office every Wednesday or by appointment.

-- Richard Brack's phone message number is 832-7194. His e-mail address is brack@ljworld.com.

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