CNB buys medical equipment supply company

BY JAMI MURPHY
Former Reporter
11/05/2010 06:55 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
CherokeeNation Businesses purchased Mobility Plus, a Muskogee-based supplier of healthcare equipment. COURTESY IMAGE
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Businesses has added another company to its portfolio with the purchase of Mobility Plus, a Muskogee-based supplier of health care equipment.

The company specializes in the sales and rental of rehabilitation technology devices, respiratory products and durable medical equipment.

“For decades the Cherokee Nation has provided quality health care to its citizens. The purchase of Mobility Plus allows us to use that knowledge and expertise to enter the commercial side of the health care industry,” CNB CEO David Stewart said.

Though based in Muskogee, Mobility Plus also has Tahlequah, McAlester, Claremore and Tulsa offices and employs nearly 70 people.

CNB Public Relations coordinator Jennifer Hardesty said CNB officials would not disclose how much the tribally owned entity paid for the health care equipment business. However, the Cherokee Phoenix has requested the purchase price under the CN Freedom of Information Act.

Principal Chief Chad Smith said the purchase of Mobility Plus is in accordance with the tribe’s goal to create more jobs in eastern Oklahoma.

“The Cherokee Nation is helping to build an entire economy in northeast Oklahoma,” he said. “Through our existing businesses, we’ve developed extremely valuable capacity in areas such as IT (information technology), health care, security and construction. Now we’re using the skill sets and knowledge that we possess to enter those industries and create jobs.”

Although tribal officials seem pleased with the purchase, a Tribal Rights Employment Office vendor who specializes in the same business isn’t. Kelly Coale, a CN citizen and owner of Medical Equipment Affiliates in Tahlequah, opened her business in 1989 and has been a TERO vendor for CN since 1992. She said she’s concerned for her business and wished the tribe would have visited with her and similar TERO vendors before buying Mobility Plus.

“I absolutely have concerns. The Cherokee Nation is our primary referral source like outreach, hospice, MRP (Medical Resource Program) and Cherokee Nation Home Health,” Coale said. “How will this not affect my business? My goal for the last 18 years has been to provide the best service to the people, and I think we have done our very best, but we still work hard to improve on that.”

Coale said she’s disappointed that CNB officials didn’t ask her about what her business does for the tribe and for how long.

The owners of Grace Medical Equipment, another TERO-certified medical equipment company in Tahlequah, declined to comment.

However, Smith said buying Mobility Plus would not affect local TERO vendors because CNB is looking at untapped markets.

“You have to look at the market you’re going after. I believe the market that our business is going after are those markets that the local folks cannot compete in. It is our design not to disturb the competitive nature of local TERO,” Smith said.

He said local health equipment providers should not think of CNB as competition. Instead they should think of themselves as being part of a “cluster environment,” similar to car dealerships that group together.

“They don’t fight over the same market. They expand the entire market and everybody benefits,” Smith said.

Mobility Plus was founded in 2000 by Rusty Jones and Mitch Perkins.

According to a CNB press release, Jones and Perkins made long-term commitments to CNB to help direct Mobility Plus while CNB investigates new avenues, although Scott Knowles of CNB has assumed its day-to-day leadership.

“This is such an exciting opportunity for Mobility Plus, as well as the Cherokee Nation,” Knowles said. “The Cherokee Nation has developed a wealth of expertise in public health over several decades, and we’re looking forward to using that expertise to explore opportunities for growth in the private sector. We are very optimistic about the jobs and opportunities we can provide to Cherokee citizens and to all the people of northeast Oklahoma.”

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