President and CEO, Wave Healthcare LLC

After a long career as a respiratory therapist, Rodney Gray founded Wave Healthcare in 2007 to provide services, equipment and education for families with children with serious respiratory problems. Today, Wave has offices in San Antonio, Lubbock, Temple, Dallas and Edinburg in the Rio Grande Valley. The company is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Health Care, an  agency recognized by Medicare.

Guy-To-Know-0316Gray started his career in ICU at Northeast Baptist Hospital in 1983, later moving to Christus Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital for a while before joining Gentiva Health Services, where he worked for 17 years. When his employer opted for a change in business direction, he retired and decided to start his own company. Though there are other businesses that incorporate pediatric respiratory services in their offerings, Wave is one of the few in Texas that focuses exclusively on children’s care.

Clearly passionate about his company’s mission, Gray and Wave support a number of charities that deal with handicapped kids and sponsor worthy projects such as a night at the DoSeum for special needs youngsters and the equipment that makes the museum’s tree house accessible to wheelchair-bound kids.

In 2013, Gray was recognized by the San Antonio Business Journal as a health care innovator.

Why did you decide to start your own company?

I worked for a national company for 17 years. At that point they made the decision to step away from the pediatric population and focus on Medicare patients. They offered me a great position to stay on, but … I didn’t sleep well at night. It wasn’t really what I was called to do. So I took out my retirement savings, put a mortgage on my house and made the decision to open a business that specializes in pediatric care. I felt that there would be a void if I couldn’t continue to provide services for children.

Could you explain in more detail what your company does?

We transition children, both newborns and older, from the hospital to the home and follow their respiratory medical care at home. Some require mechanical ventilators, some require pulmonary clearance devices, some have asthma. We teach the families how to use the appropriate equipment and other medical supplies we provide and how to care for these kids. We then check on them every month. Each patient is assigned to a case manager who handles everything. If there is a problem, the family has only one person to call. And we are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Are we talking about long-term care?

We admit a patient with the hope of discharging the patient. But a lot of these kids are medically fragile, and their care is a very long process. When we do actually reach our goal of getting them well, we throw them a party. It’s mostly for the parents actually. The parents are the unsung heroes in this kind of situation.

What kind of conditions do your young clients have?

It could be prematurity; it could be bronco-pulmonary dysplasia (BPD); some have muscular dystrophy; some have reactive airway disease, also neurological problems that they were born with. Some of these can improve over the course of time, while in other instances care is aimed at maintaining the patients because they may have a diagnosis that makes it unlikely that they will get any better. Then it’s a matter of keeping them safe at home because that’s where the parents want them to be. Here in Texas, many of these fragile children get nursing assistance at home to help with their care, so we also educate and train the nurses on how to best use the equipment and monitor the patient.

How many clients are using your services?

When I started, I knew there was a need; I just didn’t know how much of a need there was until I opened Wave. We now serve probably 1,000-plus kids up to the age of 21. After that they transition to an adult program.

Are clients referred to you by the hospitals?

Yes, physicians would call us or the case managers or the hospital discharge planners. The medical community here is a tight, small community even though we are a large city. Also, nursing agencies that have worked with us will contact us. Parents often call us directly. We have a lot of change-of-provider cases as parents find out that we specialize exclusively in pediatric care.  It’s all reputation; we don’t do any marketing.

You were an expert in your field when you launched Wave, but how about the business side of running a company?

I contacted the Small Business Development Center (at UTSA) and told them I wanted to start a business but did not know what to do first. (He took classes to learn the basics of creating a business plan, Quick Books and marketing.) They also assigned me a senior consultant who even to this day comes out here twice a month. He looks over the financial side of the business because I like to make sure that I am thinking the way I should, and he serves as adviser. It’s pretty cool. And a lot of the services were free or had a nominal fee. Tom Hansis has been my adviser from the beginning. Now I am on their advisory board. They mentored me; now I get to help other small businesses.

Your business is not that small anymore.

Yes, we have grown a lot. It started with me being chief cook and bottle washer, and it just grew. The people I work with are my most valuable asset. They are good people who will do the right thing for the right reason. It gives me great comfort to know that if I am not here, they will make the right decision for the client.

I read on your website that you want to track the impact of your care on patients’ quality of life. Could you address that?

We’ve developed software that allows this tracking to happen, and that’s what respiratory therapists use to make their assessments.  It tells us if we are trending in the right or the wrong direction. In our industry we never had that before. About three years ago I went to the national convention in Anaheim, CA, and I asked about this type of software. If we want Medicare to pay for our services, we need to be able to show them the results of our work. Well, there was no software, so we developed it here.

Do you plan to expand to more cities?

I think we will go to places that are underserved, to fill a need. Certainly, with our current offices we can handle just about the entire state of Texas.

What are you looking forward to in 2016?

Technology is forever changing, and we are committed to being at the forefront of that. There’s a device called intrapulmonary percussive ventilator or IPV, invented in San Antonio by Dr. Forrest Bird (a biomedical engineer) in 1969.

At that time nine out of 10 premature infants died. The moment he introduced the IPV at Wilford Hall, that completely changed – nine out of 10 lived. He died recently, but his technology is his legacy. And we have more IPVs than anyone else in the U.S. We want to see the use of IPVs grow and be more understood. The technology is quite different from the standard ventilator.

Educating the medical community on its application is something we want to focus on. And we are always looking at other medical devices and how we can improve the technology.

By Jasmina Wellinghoff
Photography by Janet Rogers