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Engineers keep hospitals ultra-clean

When Herman Dennington arrived in the Rogue Valley from the San Francisco Bay area nearly 30 years ago, he thought he was moving to the country.

He was escaping the big city, bright lights and lots of hours on the road.

The reality, however, is that he arrived in the right place just about the right time.

After a short stint as a pilot and airplane mechanic with Southern Oregon Skyways, the former Pan Am Airlines employee veered into a different line ' medical equipment.

— When Vietnam began winding down, there were a lot of pilots and mechanics kicked out into civilian life, says the 59-year-old Dennington. Even with all the credentials I had, there wasn't much money in it, because of the number of people with licenses. Medical equipment wasn't much different, because I was still working with wires and gauges.

Today, Dennington operates Medequip Engineering Service Inc., not far from the airport on Table Rock Road. The firm contracts with 60 hospitals and provides service to another 120 medical centers. The company's anticipated 2003 revenue of around &

36;2 million is generated from remanufacturing sterilizers and maintaining sterilizing equipment.

Its clients range from local hospitals to medical facilities in Malaysia. Medequip recently completed a &

36;250,000 order for Stanford University and a &

36;150,000 order to Sonora, Calif.

It's extremely beneficial for us as an organization to have Medequip Engineering Service able to respond to us 24 hours, seven days a week, says Tony Dutra, regional manager for Rogue Valley Medical Center's sterile processing. It would create a hardship for us ... if they weren't here.

Sterilization units are key organs in the function of hospitals, keeping operating room equipment primed for surgery.

Without a sterilizer, a hospital is just a rest home, Dennington says. Of all the devices in the facility, it's the most essential.

There are a few dozen remanufacturers nationwide, Dennington says, ranging from what he calls spray and pray operations to multi-million dollar plants.

The one- or two-man operations run out of a garage don't do much more than clean up the chamber and change gaskets, Dennington says.

Medequip, on the other hand, tears equipment down entirely and cleans and rebuilds it.

New sterilizers have a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years. New, medium-sized sterilizers such as the three Rogue Valley Medical Center has, cost around &

36;75,000 to &

36;80,000.

Medequip can rebuild a sterilizer, put it under warranty and give it another 15 to 20 years of life for half the cost.

The company stocks about &

36;250,000 in parts for people looking for hard-to-find or obsolete parts.

If you're ordering from the East Coast, a new door cover may cost &

36;2,000 for a stainless steel piece with a lot of angles, Dennington says. We can go to Brill (Metal Works in Central Point) and have one made for, say, &

36;1,000.

Dennington entered the field in a relatively small way with a far-reaching territory for a large equipment company in 1976. He serviced American Sterilizer Co. equipment from Crescent City, Calif., to Lakeview and from Florence to Eugene.

A merger put Dennington among 14 longtime employees laid off in 1993.

During his sales and service tours he discovered that hospitals were throwing equipment away, and he realized a little TLC would make them reusable. After rounding up 12 former co-workers whose territories reached from Portland to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to Reno, Nev., Dennington launched his new enterprise.

Within three years, Medequip was plugging away.

The growth we saw in the early years just about put us out of business, Dennington says. We put a lot of money into the orders to accommodate our customer needs ' especially with remanufacturing. Although our customers always pay, they don't always pay very fast.

Coffee, anyone?

After the fourth or fifth suitor approached Herman Dennington about building a drive-up coffee stand on his property at 4500 Table Rock Road, the Medequip Engineering Service president decided he should check out the possibilities for himself.

The coffee vendors wanted long-term leases to use his corner lot, where hundreds of cars pass by each day. Although he has no plans to sell the property, he wanted to avoid entanglements that might limit future options.

So instead of putting himself or someone else's business at risk, Dennington built his own coffee stand with flair. He opened Aug. 29.

Apparently those coffee drive-throughs make money or they wouldn't be popping up everywhere, says Dennington, who calls Medequip's newest unit Safari Coffee.

The drive-up features Mellelo's coffee, employs five and operates seven days a week. Dennington consulted with Sal Mellelo about opening the stand.

Most of the time when I sit down with people, I talk them out of it, because this is a pretty saturated town, says Mellelo, whose coffee is distributed to 70 drive-ups around the country. But it's a really good location that really didn't have much and, knowing Herman, I thought he would do well in that area.

Rather than build the typical shed-like structure, he took advantage of his company's skills and created a steel-framed glass coffee house. And just in case someone's not in a big hurry, Dennington added a waterfall with a gazebo and outside seating.

It raises the bar for coffee drive-throughs, he says with a tinge of pride.

When you're paying &

36;2 or &

36;2.50 for specialty coffees, you should get more than a cup, Dennington says. We've added some aesthetics. No one needs a milkshake or cup of coffee, it's more of a favor you do for yourself.

The only downside to Medequip's new sideline is that it cost Dennington nearly &

36;8,000 in systems development charges.

There was even a south Medford interchange development fee, says Dennington, whose firm is about mile from the Central Point freeway exit several miles to the north of the south interchange.

Shop technician John Berndt works on a disinfector at Medequip Engineering Services Inc., which rebuilds and sterilizes medical equipment for use locally and as far away as Malaysia. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven