by Tim Rowan, Editor
Last week's announcement that AlayaCare is acquiring Delta Health Technologies from Salo Solutions and keeping CEO Tony Ott on board drew a lot of attention. It was our most-read story of the week by far but seemed to me to be missing something. The marquee name from Delta lore never came up during that interview. This trip down memory lane is offered to correct that oversight.
Keith Crownover started his home care career as a customer support representative with Delta in the early 80's. His journey passed through tech support, area sales rep, and VP of Sales and Marketing. My first encounter with the company was not with Keith but with the sales rep he sent to Colorado to pitch my Home Health provider company. It did not go well for the rep. I was a rookie, still learning the ropes, and Delta was running its software on IBM minicomputers (look it up here if you are too young to remember room-sized computers and green screen terminals). I learned later that I may have witnessed the last minicomputer-based sales pitch before Delta modernized to...MS-DOS.
The 90's were tumultuous in Medicare Home Health. The unprecedented boom early in the decade morphed into the bust that was the Interim Payment System as the new millennium approached. Crownover had been promoted to his VP position by then, just in time for major changes throughout the industry. Hospital software firms started acquiring Home Health and Hospice software companies, one after the other.
Cerner bought BeyondNow, HBOC bought MSI, but soon became part of the McKesson empire, MediTech invested heavily in PtCT and later acquired it all, and Shared Medical Systems (SMS) gobbled up Delta. Shared Medical Systems? If the name is unfamiliar, it is because it was not long before the Germany-based multinational Siemens acquired SMS, with Delta swept up in the momentum and both names, SMS and Delta, disappearing. Crownover now found himself a Senior Director of a German medical device manufacturer, still without budging from his original desk in Altoona, PA.
The dawning of a new millennium failed to diminish the tumult. While the rest of the world celebrated that Y2k had turned into a big nothing, Home Health was dealing with another new payment system, Prospective Pay. Software developers at every vendor were challenged to write new code faster than CMS could release last-minute rule changes, as it always does. Delta's designers and developers had trouble meeting the challenge. Its revamped billing functions did not work the way they were supposed to.
I include this part of the story not to bring up a difficult memory but to get across the kind of person Keith Crownover is. He had to watch as customers were unable to submit a Medicare claim for months. Hospital-owned agencies and the agencies who could quickly implement a different software solution survived. Many did not. Delta's customer base dwindled. This writer was particularly harsh in exposing some of the problems customers were experiencing.
Somehow, Crownover led the Delta team through that tough year, got all the problems fixed, and started winning sales again. It was a comeback as unexpected as Ali beating Quarry after the end of his three and a half-year ban from the ring, as impressive as Tiger Woods winning his first tournament in five years after four back surgeries. One time and one time only, over a tense breakfast, Keith expressed his disappointment at the way we had covered Delta's PPS nightmare year. There was zero lingering animosity. In fact, the opposite happened.
In 2005, my business partner and I converted this newsletter from subscriber-supported to advertiser-supported. To our surprise, Delta (then as Siemens Home Health) was first in line to sponsor the new format. They signed up to advertise as soon as we announced the change. Four years later, when my partner unexpectedly passed away and I struggled to keep the newsletter going under a new name that had none of the gravitas of his name, Delta (Siemens) was first in line again, signing an advertising contract with my precarious venture without hesitation. Since then, no hard feelings, not one mention in the last 16 years of my coverage of those early PPS days.
To backtrack to the German acquisition, Crownover had already earned his medals and proved his mettle long before merely forgiving one writer's enthusiasm. Throw away all the Delta and brand-new SMS business cards, trade show banners, flyers, etc. and have the Siemens ones made up. Attend occasional meetings in Germany. Take orders from a giant medical device manufacturer who knows little of the U.S. Home Health market. Put on a brave face and tell your customers, and curious newsletter writers, that this is a good move for the company and its customers.
It was an exciting eight years, Keith made everyone believe, but, like all good things, it too came to an end. Siemens decided it did not care to be in the U.S. Home Health business anymore and put the former Delta Computer Systems on the market. He and his team were in danger of losing the same address, the same phone number, and the same desks where they had worked for years, no matter how often the names on their paychecks changed. Leaving the sale to chance was risking too much.
Rather than trade one foreign boss for possibly another, Keith got his whole team together and laid his cards on the table, or maybe on the desk he had then occupied for 23 years. "What do you want to do?" one can imagine him asking them. "Apply for other jobs? Stay here and wait to see who our next owner is?" He told me at the time that their answer was nearly unanimous: "Let's buy it ourselves!"
Looking back at the article we published on February 1, 2006 (homecaretechreport.com/article/23), I was reminded that Crownover cobbled together an ownership team that included some current staff, a Siemens CFO, and two local investors, one of whom was the gentleman who had founded Delta in 1968, Neil Port. Still active in the Central Pennsylvania investment scene, Mr. Port loved the idea of getting the band back together. He stayed in the background and Keith took on the titles of President and CEO.
That was the rebirth of the locally owned Delta Health Technologies, which continued to release new products — Windows-based this time — and to rebuild its leadership brand in the Home Health, Hospice, and Private Duty marketplace through last month. During Keith's leadership as President and CEO, Delta frequently underwrote the costs of the Annual Home Care State of the Industry Survey, typically created by Fazzi and co-sponsored by NAHC.
With grandchildren growing up and starting school, the view of the end of the road, even from his comfortable, familiar desk, began to appeal to the President and CEO. He bided his time until just the right offer came along, one that promised to keep his staff intact and in Altoona. Our twin reports in December 2017 described how the former Delta customer, now an Ohio CEO, won the bid. (homecaretechreport.com/article/2550; homecaretechreport.com/article/2551) Tony Ott held to his promise. No Delta employee has had to leave their Altoona desk over the last four years. (Serious history buffs may find my video interview with Keith and Tony from last February interesting.)
Not one to do nothing but grandfather duties 24/7, especially with the ones 3,000 miles away, Keith told us that he has taken a position as an Associate Partner with Stoneridge Partners, a home care mergers and acquisitions firm headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky. "I had to do something to fill my time," he joked with us, while setting up a booth at a trade show he has attended for 40 years, the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Homecare Association. "After 38 years with the same phone number, I thought I would fill my time doing something useful in a familiar field." It looks like he landed well. Apparently, Stoneridge completed dozens of M&A deals last year, during the heart of the pandemic. "Not a bad place to land," he laughed.
I thought this piece would be a farewell ode to an old friend, but, after speaking with Keith, it looks like he will be setting up home care tradeshow booths for a little while longer. So let this instead be "Best wishes on your new adventure, old friend."
©2021 by Rowan Consulting Associates, Inc., Colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in Home Care Technology: The Rowan Report. homecaretechreport.com One copy may be printed for personal use; further reproduction by permission only. firstname.lastname@example.org