Women Warriors: Tink Newcomb, Mary Aframe, and Kim Neel

Published in Women's Health on August 28, 2020

The Essentially Women Town Hall meeting on August 25 featured a panel of three EW members who talked about their experiences during the pandemic with Nikki Jensen. Check out the full panel discussion video at the bottom of the blog. Here are some highlights from the discussion.

Tink Newcomb, MBA, CECMS, CCT
Prairie Medical
Meridian, ID

Q: Were you open during the pandemic? And if so, were you appointment only?

A: Because of pneumatic compression, we were considered essential. We were closed for 2 weeks but continued to check messages in shifts. When we opened back up, we were appointment only. We have been doing business by appointment only for a long time any way, to make sure patients get enough time in their appointments.

Did you take any steps to let your customers know that you were available to them?

We called each customer with an appointment and let them know that they are reevaluating safety protocols and that we would call back to reschedule. We also sent out emails to referral sources letting them know that Prairie Medical was open and that we can mail product and compression devices to a patient for free if they need it.

We sent postcards letting customers know that we were open. We also directed our customers to go on our website and do a virtual tour to see what it would be like when they came to their office and what protocols they should expect. I would have done those earlier because once we sent those out and stated we had new product in, we saw a huge bump in calls.

The one thing that we do get because of where we are located is that they don’t want to wear a mask because they don’t believe that the pandemic is that bad. That’s probably the biggest push back we get. We basically say that if you don’t want to wear your mask, you’re not welcome in here. You know, we are following guidelines.

To make my employees more comfortable, I provided my fitters some goggles that look like glasses that they wear during the fitting. It helps give protection from droplets around their eyes.

Mary Aframe
The Women’s Image Center
Wocester, MA

How have you used virtual fittings in your business?

Virtual fittings helped because I was able to take care of women who wanted a bra or a wig without them coming in.

What type of fitting is most suitable for a virtual fitting?

I am still doing wigs virtually. I show them the wig on a webcam on a mannequin, ship it to the patient, then I have videos on the website on how to wash and care for the wigs. This process cuts the wig time down to one 25 minute virtual appointment instead of 2 appointments in the office.

What steps are you taking in welcoming patients back to the store?

I’m doing lots of Facebook Live posts and Instagram posts showing what I’m wearing and what I’m doing to keep everyone safe including myself and my staff. When the patients come in, they feel comfortable because I wear scrubs, a lab coat, my hair is in a hairnet, N95 mask, face shield, and gloves. I think people feel very safe. Many times, people thank me for doing what we are to keep them safe.

The Facebook Live posts are a series. There have been more than just one of me in the gear showing what we are doing to keep our patients safe. I also do some encouraging, good feeling posts to let people know that we are going to get through this together.

At one of my locations, there is also a full-time cleaning person employed by the hospital that cleans after each patient. He wipes down all door handles, surfaces and anything that is touched.

What requirements do you have for patients?

We do a phone screening before of the COVID questions before they come in. Before their appointment, we have then wait in the car until we call them in. No one else is allowed with them during their appointment; they can only be by themselves. We take their temperature and have them wash their hands before start the appointment.

We also have a 2-page COVID-19 form of our safety protocols and I have them sign that I cannot guarantee their safety but we are doing everything we can. We also use a spray disinfectant product that you mix up with water and wipe everything down with it. We also have a UV box to disinfect any wigs, bras, or anything else anyone may have touched.

How have you let your referral sources and your patients know you’re still open?

We have done this for years, but when I get a written order/prescription from a doctor, I put 5 of my business cards in an envelope and mail it as a way to keep us in the forefront. It helps remind them that we are here and we are open.

Every year on the patient’s anniversary month, I send my patients a recall card. In the recall card, I include a small piece of paper that describes how to support our business during COVID-19.

Kim Neel
Alala, Inc
Columbia, SC

How have you and your employees coped during COVID-19?

Pre-pandemic we had 8 employees, including three part-time people and five full-time people. Because of the additional $600 in unemployment benefits that people were going to get, we had to furlough 6 staff members. By the end of March, it was just Sherry and I running the business. We spent hours on the phone telling people that we were appointment only and separating appointments an hour apart so we have time to clean and sanitize. We took turns answering the phone and seeing people. We mailed a lot of items. The Post Office became our best friend!

What was it like calling people back to work?

We are now down to 6 total staff members. One person decided to stay out. We had to send a letter to the state of South Carolina stating that we extended jobs to everyone, so they knew who didn’t come back. One has come back part time from Virginia, working remotely doing billing. We lost one mastectomy fitter, which was very hard. She resigned; she just couldn’t handle the risk.

We brought everyone back June 8. We had a bootcamp with a whole day of games and retraining.

We let people see patients according to the employee’s comfort zone. Everyone has masks, they can have goggles, and disposable smocks. We are trying to make it as normal as possible because of people balking at masks. We also had to change entrance to kitchen because we can steam clean it.

What have you learned? What would you do differently?

Don’t be so quick to let people leave. I would also do a mailing and will do Facebook videos. It was hard to tell people what to expect because we didn’t know what would happen in South Carolina one day to the next. We had a really hard time working with doctors to get prescriptions because the doctor didn’t have staff. We would definitely better align ourselves with our referral sources.

View the full panel discussion


  1. covid-19
  2. essentially women
  3. member spotlight
  4. women's health

From Our Experts

Protecting Your Business With Viable and Sustainable Payer Contracts thumbnail Protecting Your Business With Viable and Sustainable Payer Contracts Read how to protect your durable medical equipment, prosthetic, orthotic, and supplies (DMEPOS) business by ensuring that you have payer contracts that have long-term viability, as this is one of the most important factors in determining whether your company ultimately succeeds or fails. Locking the Digital Door to Risk: Proactive IT and Website Security Strategies to Protect Your Business thumbnail Locking the Digital Door to Risk: Proactive IT and Website Security Strategies to Protect Your Business With the increasing number of cyber threats and data breaches, it's important to take the necessary steps to protect your business from these risks. The PHE Is Over: What's Next? thumbnail The PHE Is Over: What's Next? In today's episode of Industry Matters, Mandi Joyner, Senior Director of Marketing at VGM & Associates, talks with three of VGM's payer, billing, and reimbursement experts Ronda Buhrmester, Dan Fedor, and Craig Douglas about the end of the Public Health Emergency (PHE) and what that means for members. How to Navigate Supply Chain Issues thumbnail How to Navigate Supply Chain Issues The DMEPOS supply chain was significantly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the industry is gradually making its way back to a more typical state. Nevertheless, certain procedures that were developed out of necessity during the pandemic's onset and peak have evolved into effective best practices. One of the most crucial lessons learned is the importance of close collaboration between providers and their trusted vendors, manufacturers, or distributors to ensure success. The State of DMEPOS: Where Does Our Industry Stand Now, and Where Are We Heading? thumbnail The State of DMEPOS: Where Does Our Industry Stand Now, and Where Are We Heading? Jeremy Stolz, President, VGM & Associates and VGM Fulfillment, outlines several areas of the DMEPOS industry to consider as part of your business' action plan for 2023. VGM & Associates Releases Latest Playbook on Safeguarding Your Future in DMEPOS thumbnail VGM & Associates Releases Latest Playbook on Safeguarding Your Future in DMEPOS VGM & Associates has released the second playbook of 2023, “VGM Playbook: Safeguarding Your Future in DMEPOS.” Essentially Women Announces Website Redesign thumbnail Essentially Women Announces Website Redesign Essentially Women (EW), a division of VGM & Associates, is excited to unveil their newly redesigned website, essentiallywomen.com. Overcoming Staffing Changes One Piece at a Time thumbnail Overcoming Staffing Changes One Piece at a Time VGM member Jim Lehan, Business Operations Director, Lehan Drugs Inc., describes how his business improved their staffing challenges through hiring and retention, automation, and outsourcing.