ReNu Medical Cleans Up!

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In simplest terms, ReNu Medical Inc. is in the cleaning business. It's just that the items the Everett-based firm specializes in need to be really, really clean. And as one of only a handful of companies competing in the relatively young field of medical device reprocessing, ReNu's owners see great potential for growth as hospitals face tightening operating budgets.

"In a nutshell, what we do is save hospitals money," said Bruce Pierson, who co-founded ReNu nearly four years ago with Randy Long. "The only investment the hospital has to make is to say yes."

ReNu uses high-level disinfection to clean between 40 and 50 different types of medical devices used outside the body. These include blood pressure cuffs, probes used to monitor a patient's oxygen level, specialized airway masks and limb sleeves.

For example, the business disinfects a large number of compression sleeves used to treat patients with deep-vein thrombosis, a condition which causes blood clots, usually in the legs, and can result in pain and potentially fatal complications. Compression sleeves worn on the legs help to keep blood from clotting.

Many hospitals buy the sleeves, which can cost more than $40 for a pair, and then throw them out after a single patient uses them.

But ReNu can disinfect them for less than half that cost and send them back to a hospital for repeated use. Pierson said a pair of compression sleeves can be used up to 10 times if it's treated in between patients.

Disinfection also offers cost savings when compared to sterilization, which isn't necessary for devices that stay on the outside of the body, Pierson said.

High-level disinfection isn't a new practice. Hospitals used to disinfect medical items in their own facilities and reuse them.

"The hospitals kind of did it hit and miss, and they didn't always do a great job," said Brian McNair, sales manager for Seattle-based Olympic Medical, which makes hot-water disinfection washers used by reprocessors.

Pierson, whose background includes years in nursing and hospital work, and Long met at Olympic Medical, where the two worked in sales and customer training. After being offered jobs at an existing reprocessing firm, they decided to start their own.

The principal owners' backgrounds meant they started from a different mindset than their competitors, Pierson said.

"We started out from a clinical basis to ensure patient safety. The other businesses started from a business angle and then had to figure out the patient safety aspect," he said.

Long, 34, and Pierson, 49, incorporated their business in late 2000, but setting up their processing facility in a south Everett building, developing their own software and receiving FDA certification took until mid-2002. During that time, ReNu's two major competitors in the nationwide reprocessing industry got a head start, Pierson said.

"Even though we may have lost in the short term, we are finding in the long term it was worth it, because of the time we invested in setting up our processes," Pierson said.

As a result, he said, ReNu is the only high-level disinfection reprocessor that has never had a complaint nor had any of its hospital customers discontinue the service.

In addition to emphasizing patient safety, Long said, ReNu goes to great lengths to make sure the devices it cleans stay in new condition.

"Nothing goes out of here unless it looks brand-new," Long said.

Every cleaned device also is tested before it's shipped back to make sure it meets the original manufacturer's specifications, Pierson added.

At ReNu's office and processing space, used items are brought in to a "dirty room," where bar code tags on the items are scanned into a computerized tracking system before they go to a pre-wash room.

The company's quality-control tracking, the layout of the processing rooms and even special air-filtering equipment help to make sure devices are sent back to hospitals in pristine condition. There's also a side benefit to the filtered air throughout ReNu's facility.

"You never have to dust," Pierson said, running a finger across his desk.

While Pierson and Long both live in Edmonds, it's almost an accident that ReNu is in Everett. They looked up and down the West Coast and were on the verge of signing a lease for a space in Southern California when they made one last inquiry closer to home.

"We were very surprised at the business environment in Everett," Pierson said.

The combination of reasonably priced office space and plentiful pool of eager workers convinced the owners to set up here, he said. ReNu now employs about 20 people locally and a dozen sales representatives across the country.

Pierson said the company cleans thousands of items in an average week, and he's happy with the rate at which at which ReNu is adding customers.

Still, no more than a few hundred U.S. hospitals use their disinfection services, he estimated. That leaves a huge potential for growth.

"Our market (customer) is the 80 percent of hospitals out there not using high-level disinfection (pasteurization) or reprocessing on any level," said Loren Timmons, ReNu's Vice President of Marketing and Business Development.

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