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Meeting a need // Supply firm is still making house calls

It started so simply.

Robert and Veronica Contento started their medical-supply business with a small 600-square-foot storefront at 4029 Mariner Blvd. in Spring Hill.

That was five years ago, and Robert Contento had decided to retire as a respiratory therapist to open Gulfview Respiratory Care Services Inc.

"One reason my husband opened the store in this county was because the home patient wasn't getting their fair share," Veronica Contento, 55, recalled. "At the time, there was one company that took care of everybody and everything. It just seemed (Hernando) was the neediest place around."

Things have definitely changed.

In recent years, lots of ancillary businesses have popped up because of the county's thriving medical community. Approximately 15 medical supply stores now operate in Hernando County.

"It's unbelievable. It's grown so much," said Mrs. Contento, who moved to Hudson 18 years ago from New York. "When I moved here there were two hospitals, and there were two or three companies in the same line of business as I am. (Hogan's Drugstore HealthCall in Brooksville) is the only one still in business."

"Companies have come and gone in the five years," she said. "They see the dollar signs, but they don't know what work is involved. My family and I have to be on 24-hour call."

Gulfview is family-owned and -operated. Mrs. Contento took over the business when her husband died in March. Lou, the younger of Mrs. Contento's two sons, is the equipment manager. Linda, Robert Jr.'s wife, oversees billing. And Elizabeth, Lou's wife, heads the uniform department.

The Contentos' business has proven so profitable that it has moved three times since the store opened. The current 6,000-square-foot building is at 4241 Mariner Blvd., two blocks away from the original shop.

Wheelchairs, walkers and recliners are parked in the front storeroom, waiting to be sold or rented. Racks of canes and crutches aid the bedridden, the injured and the elderly. Shelves are filled with items designed to make life easier for disabled or older people. Gadgets help with buttons or with socks or clamp onto clothing and out-of-reach items, allowing stiff and injured arms more independence.

In the back, the once-white world of uniforms has expanded to include pastels and neon hues, along with the pens nurses wear on a cord around their neck.

But more has been added to Gulfview than color and floor space.

In addition to the sales and rental division, the Contentos have two registered nurses and a respiratory therapist who make house calls in Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties. They assist patients with their respiratory equipment and administer physical assessments for doctors.

"These other companies don't do that," Mrs. Contento said. "The only time (patients) see the other companies is when something goes wrong. It's one of the reasons we do so well. There's personal contact there."

Mrs. Contento boasts that the family motto _ "We Promise and We Give" _ is what sets her company apart from the rest of the competition.

"If you order a hospital bed to be delivered at 2 p.m., it'll be there," she said. "I'm doing very well, but I work for it. My reputation has helped this business succeed."

Mrs. Contento says right now there is enough business for everyone. But she worries that hospital companies that own health-care stores and big conglomerates will change things.

"They're running the small businesses into trouble," Mrs. Contento said. "I don't think it's fair."