Once upon a time, oxygen was merely a primary necessity for life.
But now, in Payson, it's also big business.
"It's amazing to me to realize how many oxygen patients there are in this area," respiratory therapist Mark Nelson, manager of Mountain Respiratory Care at Sawmill Crossing, said. "The big retirement population and the high elevation really makes a difference. That's where 90 percent of my business comes from."
That also explains why Nelson is so enthused about the HELiOS oxygen system, which provides new levels of comfort, convenience and mobility, 24 hours per day, to people who are prescribed long-term oxygen therapy by their physician.
Smaller and lighter than other oxygen units currently on the market, the 3.4-pound HELiOS system is worn by patients as easily as a "fanny pack," and does not require cumbersome tubes or heavy canisters enabling patients to pursue a full range of activities. The HELiOS system also provides 10 hours of use between fillings meaning that it not only lasts longer but is more economical than the conventional "concentrator" system.
"Most home-use oxygen patients are still on concentrators, which run on electricity meaning that if there are any power outages, the patient is not going to have oxygen and will have to go to a backup system. The HELiOS system, however, doesn't run off of electricity or make any noise. We fill it up with liquid oxygen, and the liquid is so cold that it bubbles in the unit, builds up pressure and delivers the oxygen at a rate that's preset, depending on the patient's needs.
"Without bulky, heavy equipment that needs frequent refills, patients can return to a more active, healthy lifestyle," Nelson said. "To sleep, they simply connect the portable unit to the system reservoir and continue to breathe easily."
Other oxygen options
Ninety percent of Rob Fanizza's clientele also come to his business, Arizona Respiratory Services, for oxygen and related equipment and supplies. But he's not at all sold on the HELiOS system as any sort of major technological breakthrough.
"It's not for every patient, because the system works on a pulse," Fanizza said. "Some patients' (breathing difficulties) are so severe that they need continuous oxygen. Other patients simply can't tolerate it, such as mouth-breathers. So it's really not for everybody.
"Secondly," he adds, "it's bad for companies like ours, because it's a much more expensive system for us to offer. Medicare reimbursement pays the same amount for any modality of oxygen.
"... For me to buy that system alone would cost me a few thousand dollars. And then, to get our money back and service our patients effectively takes so long that it really creates a bind. I'm the only privately-owned company in town, and I've been here for 20 years. Now all of a sudden you've got billion-dollar corporations putting all of this expensive equipment out there and trying to take way your business with something that not all patients need."
One of the drawbacks of HELiOS, Fanizza said, is that "if a patient wants to travel, they can't get their liquid-base unit filled all of the time. So we're doing some other things that are creative like giving our patients extra equipment, such as concentrators for night use and portable tanks equipped with pneumatic devices which give 'shots' of oxygen when needed."
Of the two other types of oxygen systems available for home use compressed gas in cylinders, and oxygen concentrators which suck in surrounding air and separate the oxygen from the nitrogen Fanizza prefers the latter option because it's "a lot more cost-effective for us because it puts out two, three or four liters of 98 percent pure oxygen, and that is all most of our patients need."