Polk Vocational Services Inc. provides sources of pridePublished 6:39pm Friday, January 3, 2014
The White Room glistens, impeccably clean.
From this corner of Polk County, thousands of medical products and hospital supplies will be bagged, tagged and shipped across the country, and every speck of dust must be swept away to ensure sterile conditions.
People take deep pride in their work at Polk Vocational Services Inc., and the $2 million dollar business employs more than 75 people in Polk County, said Neal Bebber, company president.
“We supply a wide variety of products,” Bebber said. “We do kitting, putting together the medical kits for specific medical procedures, and we make drapes for medical facilities, including body drapes.”
The quality control standards at PVS remain the highest in the industry, and the company has become certified by the world’s best known quality certification for medical devices.
“Our return rate is extremely low,” Bebber said. “For example, we shipped 250,000 medical drapes last year, and we had only five returns.”
The company has been doing business since June 1968. PVS joined the Better Business Bureau in 2009 and has attained an A-plus rating from the bureau.
PVS prides itself on quick turnaround and has a 98 percent on-time delivery for all orders.
Bebber took the helm of Polk Vocational Services Inc. 10 years ago.
He had 20 years of manufacturing experience, including 10 years in finance and 10 years in sales and marketing. At that time, the nonprofit, 501c3 company relied heavily on government funding to make its annual budget.
“Eighty-five percent of our funding came from government programs, and 15 percent came from production revenue,” Bebber said. “Today, 65 percent of our revenue comes from our own production, and 35 percent comes from government funding. When I was hired, the board knew that government funding was being reduced, and they needed to find a way to provide the critical services available here. The organization needed to be in a position to fund more services and to grow the production side.”
The company has a significant economic impact on the community, with both medical products and packaging and assembly. The company packs and assembles many products, and bulk-packs vacuum filters exclusive to Walmart in the United States. These filters go to all the Walmart stores from their bulk packing site at PVS.
Bebber said employees who support one another and work together to build individual as well as group success had made the company strong.
“We have an integrated workforce,” Bebber explained. “Workers can earn up to $16 an hour here.”
Workers attain their wages through a piece rate system as mandated by federal law. Companies from throughout the region have shared what they pay for work, and this amount gets averaged together.
Then, a time study ensues to determine how many pieces a person can do in an hour, and the average of that becomes the foundation for the pay scale.
“We do many different products, including promotional products, and we ship 37,500 little promotional boxes for stickers each week,” Bebber said. “Now, some people can do only one hundred in a week, while others can do a thousand in a day. We pay for the amount of work done. We can’t pay everyone the same wages, so we have a subminimum wage certificate when necessary. If a person can’t make enough to match others, that’s okay.”
The Fair Labor Standards Act provides for the employment of individuals at wage rates below the minimum wage, and this rate applies to people who have disabilities that impede their productive or earning ability.
This adjustment allows businesses to employ people who really benefit from employment opportunities, with certificates issued by the U.S. Department of Labor Employment Standards Administration’s Wage and Hour Division.
With this allowance, people who might lose their positions for low productivity can keep their jobs and the pride that emerges from working, while fast workers reap the financial benefits of their heightened productivity.
“Paid work provides a source of self-esteem,” Bebber said. “With the money they earn here, they can buy their own things.”
PVS essentially exists as two companies in one. In addition to the medical products and packaging work, the company provides rehabilitation, development and employment services to people who face challenges in attaining employment.
PVS can supply waiver services, including personal care, supported employment, respite, day support and home and community support.
They also strive to manage special needs as they arise, so that people who work there can keep their jobs even when life stressors occur.
“We offer services, so one person might be working with four or five individuals to help them keep their jobs, while another person might be working one-on-one with someone,” Bebber said. “Half of our employees have no disabilities, but half have developmental disabilities.”
Developmental disabilities include cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, intellectual disability, pervasive developmental disorder and numerous other conditions that can affect learning, independent functioning, language and mobility.
PVS works with Vocational Rehabilitation, as well, for people who have been in accidents and need re-training to be work in the facility or somewhere else.
The work at PVS builds on individual strengths and enhances personal and interpersonal growth, Bebber said.
“We work to make sure their needs are met,” Bebber said. “We have several programs, and partner with Isothermal Community College for education. We provide the classroom and ICC provides the teachers.”
In one class, “Skills to Pay the Bills,” PVS participants learn life skills such as how to make a bed, go grocery shopping and organize the basics of everyday life.
In the “Work Healthy, Live Healthy” wellness program, people explore new hobbies and community opportunities. PVS sponsors dances, parties and get-togethers.
“We’re an educational facility, and we also give real respite to the care providers and parents who sometimes need to get a break,” Bebber said.
PVS also builds community with four big outings every year available to everyone, and numerous smaller outings for small groups.
The field trips include movies, dinner nights, and an annual trip to Strawberry Hill, the largest strawberry farm in South Carolina, to enjoy a genuine experience of farm life. PVS also offers some urban and suburban field trips.
“In early December everyone gets a bonus, and we all go to the shopping mall,” Bebber said. “For some of our people, it’s the only time all year that they can go to the mall.”
Few local people know much about PVS, unless they have a family member who’s working there, but Bebber said he strongly considered PVS to be an economic and social asset to the whole community.
“We give an opportunity to come to work and earn a paycheck and be proud,” Bebber said. “It’s a delight to be here and see the amazing dedication. There’s a limitless capacity that can be hidden behind disabilities.”v