Rick Fleetwood, MPA: Big Heart, Generous Spirit, Hard Work

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By Miki Fairley

Rick Fleetwood.

"A heart as big as all outdoors" seems to be a phrase specifically coined for Rick Fleetwood, MPA, CEO of Snell Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratory, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Giving generously-not only financially but also in terms of his time, energy, and talents-has been a keystone of Fleetwood's life and career. He pours himself wholeheartedly into every area of his life and loves what he does-whether it's working for his company, advocating for the O&P industry, or volunteering for charitable and civic organizations.

Big Inspiration Comes in Small Packages

Frank E. Snell (left), owner of Snell Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratory, and Fleetwood (right) display their respective awards as the Arkansas Business of the Year in Category II (26-75 employees), and the 2012 Arkansas Business Executive of the Year.

Fleetwood first became interested in the rehabilitation field while serving with the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. On his monthly day off, he would take donations to an orphanage in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) to help the children. "There were so many children who were physically challenged," he says. "The need was so great that you just wanted to help out. I'd write home and say, 'Send me money and clothes.' The wonderful feeling and interaction with the children brought such joy and a feeling of accomplishment in an area and time of disillusion and death, and directed me in a correct and meaningful path."

The children caught between two cultures especially touched his heart. "Some of the kids there were fathered by Americans. Once, a small child spit on me. It broke my heart because I knew that we, as Americans, had left him behind, first, as half American/Vietnamese, and second, left him behind as a person. Most children were left there because of the family's shame. They were outcasts and they were physically challenged as well.... I realized I wanted to do something for persons who were physically challenged-and what better profession is there than orthotics and prosthetics to do that?"

Fleetwood grew up in Monette, Arkansas, and earned a master's degree in public administration at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, home of the Arkansas Razorbacks of which he is an avid fan. After leaving the Air Force in 1975, he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, and applied for a position with Snell Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratory as general manager. He has been there ever since. "It was the right time, the right profession, and the right company," he says. During his 37-year career with Snell P&O, he has served as chief operating officer, chief financial officer, and secretary-treasurer as well as his current position as CEO. Fleetwood, a bachelor, says the company is his family. "I work seven days a week and am on call 24/7."

Paul Prusakowski, CEO of OPIE Software, who had been training the Snell staff on OPIE practice management software, stands to the side as Fleetwood prepares to award him a Razorback hat and call the Hogs for him.

Fleetwood's contributions to his company have not gone unnoticed by the business community. He was named 2012 Arkansas Business Executive of the Year by Arkansas Business, receiving the honor during an awards banquet in February. He and owner Frank E. Snell, CPO, FAAOP, also had the joy of seeing Snell P&O honored as the 2012 Arkansas Business of the Year in category II, which included companies with 26-75 employees.

Fleetwood's contributions in the rehabilitation arena have earned him state, regional, and national meritorious service awards. He served on the Arkansas Rehabilitation Advisory Council for eight years as well as the state Medicare board, the state Rehabilitation Association appointed by the Arkansas governor, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Region C Provider Communications Advisory Group (PCOM).

Urgent Message to the Industry

As chair of the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association (AOPA) Political Action Committee (PAC), a post he has held since 2006, Fleetwood has an urgent message for the industry. "We need to do a better job of educating policymakers to fully understand the importance of what we do [and] the difference we make in people's lives," he says. "For example, we've done a reasonably good job of educating our policymakers in Arkansas. But all the battles we've won can be taken away if we're not diligent in protecting the interests of what we do as a profession. We can win the battle but we might end up losing the war."

Rep. Mike Roos (D-AR4), center, visits Snell Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratory to gain a better understanding of O&P.

He points out that O&P coverage was almost left out of the essential health benefits package of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ACA). "However, AOPA and other O&P organizations banded together to press for inclusion. If orthotics and prosthetics were not included in essential benefits, we would have been in deep trouble because Medicaid and private insurers would follow suit."

Despite this victory, the outlook for O&P under the act is far from secure, he warns. Fleetwood urges the need for continued vigilance and action as ACA-related events unfold, a concern shared by Peter W. Thomas, JD, general counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Orthotics and Prosthetics (NAAOP) and Ryan Ball, government relations expert for the Orthotic and Prosthetic Group of America (OPGA), among others. (Author's note: For more information, see "HHS Moves Forward with Development of Essential Health Benefits Package," by Peter Thomas, JD, and Theresa Morgan, The O&P EDGE, March 2012, www.oandp.com/articles/2012-03_06.asp; and "Impact of Supreme Court Ruling Upholding ACA on Orthotics and Prosthetics," by Ryan Ball, posted online June 28, 2012, www.oandp.com/link/169)

"What we do not only enhances quality of life but also can enable people to return to work," Fleetwood points out. "Sixty-seven percent of persons with disabilities are out of work, and that's a tragedy." Besides income, work can provide dignity and meaning to a person's life. "When you meet someone, often the first thing you ask is, 'What do you do?' If we can get that individual able to return to work, we're not only doing a service for that individual, we're doing a service for our state and our country too," he says.

Since O&P, with fewer than 10,000 persons in the profession, is a small part of the healthcare picture, too many people think they are too small to make a difference, Fleetwood says. "The thinking has been, 'I'm too small to do any good, to make any difference.' But if we combine together, we can protect our profession. If you just write it off and don't do anything-let somebody else do it-that's a big problem." He adds, "There's an old saying, 'If you're not at the table, you may be on the menu.' "

One way to come to the table is to donate to the AOPA O&P PAC, Fleetwood points out. "AOPA does an excellent job, but it needs more help. We give to our schools, our colleges, our charities, but all too often we give nothing to the profession that provides for us. Why would we not give support to the organization that's out there fighting for us? Without our profession and the income it gives us, we wouldn't even be able to contribute to all these other things."

Other Ways to Get Involved

Two charming little girls who are cared for by Easter Seals Arkansas pose with Fleetwood. "This picture is used with our requests to other companies and friends to donate to support the Easter Seals' mission," Fleetwood says.

Fleetwood recommends that industry members get involved by becoming acquainted with their state and national legislators on a personal basis and keeping them informed about O&P patient care issues. "The next time your representative or senator is going to be in your town, invite him or her to tour your facility. Tell him or her, 'I'd love for you to come to my facility, see what we do, and see what your Medicare dollars, your VA dollars, your Medicaid dollars are doing. We'd love to take pictures and send news articles out to publications and to our national organizations.' Hold fundraisers. There are so many ways you can interact with your legislator. Make an effort to extend that hand of cooperation...."

For his part, Fleetwood has organized fundraisers at his home and maintains close communication with his legislators. In recognition of these efforts, AOPA honored Fleetwood in 2010 with its Legislative Advocacy Award.

Concerns as Healthcare Centralizes

Another area of concern to Fleetwood is the trend toward larger corporations in O&P. "Our profession started out as mom and pops, but it's harder now because [these facilities] often can't compete with the bigger companies for contracts and aren't able to obtain the same volume purchasing discounts that larger companies get." Paralleling O&P with the agricultural industry, Fleetwood points out that family farms used to be the norm, but now large corporations dominate agriculture. "Healthcare is becoming more centralized," he says.

One way small companies can compete is by banding together in networks to combine buying power to obtain volume discounts and to be competitive in obtaining insurance contracts, he says, adding, "Networks can provide marketing support and better exposure." For example, Snell P&O is a member of the Prime-Care Network for Orthotic, Prosthetic, Pedorthic & Complex Rehabilitation, Germantown, Tennessee, near Memphis. The Snell companies, which sprang from "Pop" Snell's original business in Memphis, also form their own network with facilities in Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Besides Snell Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratory, the Snell companies include Snell's Orthotics-Prosthetics, based in Shreveport, Louisiana, and CFI Prosthetics Orthotics, based in Memphis. Along with Frank Snell, owners include Clint Snell, CPO, and R. Ted Snell, CP.

Focus on Helping Others

Fleetwood is recognized for 30 years of service during the 12th Team Snell company meeting. "Naturally, the theme was the Razorbacks," Fleetwood says.

Fleetwood's dedication to helping others extends outside of his work hours and O&P advocacy as illustrated by his many active philanthropic endeavors. Most of his philanthropic efforts have been in organizations dedicated to helping persons with disabilities, but he also is involved with literacy initiatives and youth programs. He serves on the board of 12 nonprofit organizations, including United Cerebral Palsy Arkansas, Easter Seals Arkansas, the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Central Arkansas, the American Diabetes Association Arkansas, Centers for Youth and Families, Alzheimer's Arkansas, City Year Gala, Little Rock Community Mental Health Center, St. Vincent's Health System, and the Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute.

Fleetwood also supports the arts, saying that his appreciation stems not only from their intrinsic beauty, but also because they level the playing field for persons with disabilities. "When you hear someone singing on the radio, it doesn't matter whether they're blind. When you read a book, it doesn't matter if the author is an amputee." Recognizing his years of dedication to nonprofit organizations and the arts, Little Rock's Argenta Community Theater honored Fleetwood with its Arkansas Patron of the Year Award during the theater's first anniversary celebration April 19. Following his philosophy of giving, he donated the $5,000 he received as part of his award to Easter Seals to help support its art programs for children with disabilities.

Fleetwood has strong feelings about being an active, hands-on board member. "When you accept the responsibility to serve on a board, if you're doing it only to put it on your resumé, you're doing it for the wrong reason. You give your time, your talents, and your money. If you don't, you may be taking away someone else's opportunity to serve and make a difference."

Passion for O&P Endures

After almost four decades in O&P, Fleetwood's love for his chosen field and the people it serves continues unabated. "When you're blessed to be in a profession you really love and that does so much good, how could you not want to help those who make the magic for you too?

"My philosophy is, when we treat persons with disabilities, we don't just take the money and run, but we work with them and for them."

Miki Fairley is a freelance writer based in southwest Colorado. She can be reached at