WAIPAHU, HI – Just 20 minutes from Hawaii’s bustling capital city of Honolulu, Oahu, Violeta Arnobit and her husband, Terry Arnobit, Jr., started Ace Medical Inc almost two decades ago in the town of Waipahu.
The award-winning business is now a fixture in the local island community, the result of years of hard work that began when Violeta immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines with $25 in her pocket.
As a nurse recruited by a New York hospital, Arnobit lived in what she described as an abandoned dorm with 60 nurses—sharing two bathrooms with no kitchen and no laundry machines. Nurses worked without pay for the first 3 months, since paychecks went to the hospital that paid travel expenses.
From those difficult beginnings, Arnobit ultimately became a successful ICU nurse, finally starting Ace Medical in 1995. Initially turning no profit, Arnobit decided to head to Medtrade in 1995, and she has not missed a show (Medtrade Spring or Medtrade) since.
“If you don’t keep up with the changes covered at Medtrade Spring and Medtrade, you are going to be left behind,” she says. “The only way you stay in business is to keep up with change. If you want to stay in the industry, you need to diversify, get connected, and keep up.”
Arnobit has always been an advocate in her local health care scene, serving on government relations committees in Hawaii, and sitting on the Board of Regents and Nursing Advisory Board at Chaminade University. “I take care of education,” she says. “I am always doing a lot of in-services to referral sources. My goal is to educate, not just to market. I educate them about what documentation is required by CMS.”
Despite a continent and a vast Pacific Ocean between Waipahu and Washington, DC, the tentacles of competitive bidding have indeed reached Arnobit’s business. She and her husband (co-owner Terry Arnobit) did not win any contracts, and Violeta is glad. “I was happy not to win,” she says. “It would close us down. We would be forced to give away our equipment, and that’s not going to cover the costs of doing business.”
The loss of Medicare business did force Ace Medical to lay off employees. Meanwhile, patients have felt the impact. “The winners are not able to provide efficient service,” says Arnobit. “For example, the winning company ran out of equipment, and they just told patients, ‘We don’t have it.’ Patients are not getting their equipment in a timely manner. The home health agency is upset about the impact.”
These days, Ace Medical has very little dependence on Medicare—about 20%—instead relying on HMOs, private insurance, Medicaid, TriCare, and cash. “We also diversified with another business,” enthuses Arnobit. “It is a nurse’s aid training program, and we also do behavioral mental health case management. We are really diversified, and started that in 2007.
Along with healthy diversification, Violeta and Terry run an extremely lean and efficient business, thanks partly to a switch two years ago to Brightree software. “We love Brightree, but it was challenging to transition at first,” she admits. “The key is training. Change is always challenging, but once you are there it improves your operations, processes, and efficiency.”
When she is not hard at work, Violeta and Terry enjoy hiking and running the gorgeous trails around Diamond Head, Koko Head, and the North Shore (see photos above for some of the stunning views). Terry is an avid tennis player and competes in the local tennis league.
“We also have four daughters,” she says. “When we started the business, my oldest was five. Now my oldest is 25, and she is an international flight attendant. My 23-year-old is a civil engineer in Boston. My 21-year-old is at Santa Clara University, and possibly may help with the marketing at Ace Medical. And our youngest is a senior in high school.” — Greg Thompson