Alick’s Home Medical was born at home.
Some 30 years ago, Jeannine Alick brought home a stranger from the Mayo Clinic so the woman’s husband could return to their small children in Italy while she recovered from bone cancer surgery in a full body cast.
Jeannine, who was at the clinic with her mother, used Neil Diamond cassette tapes to help ease Roberta out of her postoperative depression and won a broken-English “Hello, my friend” by the third day.
They flew Roberta to Chicago, horizontal across three jumbo jet seats; managed to get her out of the airport despite having the wrong kind of wheelchair delivered; and brought her to Elkhart, where the Italian community crowded the Lebanese family’s house daily for six weeks of parties while Roberta healed.
Meanwhile, Nafe J. Alick, who owned a drugstore in Elkhart, was watching his wife’s work while reading trade journals about how home medical supplies could save independent pharmacies in the face of big-box competition.
“It was really a blessing in disguise,” recalls Nafe S. Alick, who was away getting a law degree at Georgetown University at the time. “My mom throughout that time had to find equipment and supplies for Roberta. She did that very well.”
The elder Alick had built a new drugstore and proposed that Jeannine, who had spent her adult life bringing up four children, open a medical supply business in the old building.
“My dad said, ‘Look how you care for people, how you took care of Roberta,’ ” Nafe says. “‘Take care of your business the way you take care of your household.’
“The first years were difficult. She was tenacious. She doesn’t know how to do anything without doing it fully from her heart or all the way. She treated them like her own family. She built herself a loyal following in Elkhart and grew a strong foundation that serves us well to today.”
About 20 years ago, around the Thanksgiving dinner, Jeannine wondered aloud which of the children might come and help her in the business, and Nafe, who had been practicing law in New York City for five years, decided to volunteer.
“I thought it might be a wonderful thing to leave New York City and see about going into the family business, which truly has been rewarding,” he says. “I thought I couldn’t work harder than they work you in the Wall Street law firms.
“Family business never sleeps. It is a different thing. You work for your mother, you do what she says.”
The company has grown, opening an office in Plymouth in 2000, a corporate headquarters in South Bend in 2003, a Michigan City office in 2005 and a small office in the Medical Office Building at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in 2009.
Changes in health care delivery, including distant order-by-phone suppliers who never meet the patients and don’t know their medical condition, challenge the local business.
“Health care these days has gotten competitive in a way that I wouldn’t have imagined 20 years ago when I joined my mom’s firm,” Nafe says. “You’ve got folks at home that really ought to need a local presence, someone who’s local who can help them.”
The company supplies the range of equipment and services - oxygen, lift chairs, scooters, power chairs, customized wheelchairs, walkers, quad canes.
It has special sections for women’s health items such as breast prostheses and support hose and children’s needs such as phototherapy for jaundiced babies and apnea monitors for children at risk of SIDS.
Alick’s also works to supply unusual needs. In a recent case, a 5-year-old, with a disorder that causes him to chew anything within reach, ate the pads from the bed rails he needs because of his seizures. The store contacted the manufacturer of a durable chew toy to arrange a way to encase the bed pads.
“What we try to do at Alick’s is understand what the needs are,” Nafe says. “People come with all sorts of interesting problems. Folks come in with a need and we have to figure out how to resolve the problem for which they come in.
“Every day it’s different. We listen to the person’s issue and what they’re trying to accomplish.”
Jeannine still gives training to help the more than 125 employees maintain the approach that founded the company in the first place.
“We treat our customers the way we treat our own mothers, our own fathers,” Nafe says. “We use that as our guiding light. We always remember that this is a labor of love.
“We always have to lead with our hearts and realize that what we’re doing has very little to do with the bent metal wheelchair - and everything to do with the real needs of the human being at the other end of the phone.”
Tribune Business Weekly
Alick's Home Medical built loyal clientele base
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