Service contract must-haves

No matter what the depth of outside vendor involvement in service at a facility, there are several "must haves" in all service contracts, according to Dale Surratt of OSF Health Care in Peoria, IL. These include:

Secure your parts supply.
"If you can't get parts for your equipment, you are in big trouble," Surratt said. Even if a facility can provide its own labor, if parts aren't readily available, then the equipment sits idly. Prompt a vendor for fast delivery. "If we call in the morning," he added, "will we have the part in the afternoon or the following day? It is a big difference to a hospital."

Watch for special charges.
Be aware of charges outside of the agreement, such as "special handling." Make sure special handling is negotiated into the agreement, so there are no unanticipated, extra charges.

Lock in a long-term contract.
"Don't be afraid to go into a long-term agreement, if you have a good vendor to work with and one you like," Surratt said. "The vendors love that, too." Most importantly, chances are much better that the total cost of the contract will be lower over the length of a long-term deal, rather than several short-term pacts.

Keep track of invoices.
A service vendor may be late in billing a facility for overtime on a call -- six or eight months after the job was done -- because the engineer may be late with his paperwork. "We negotiate into agreements that if you don't get that invoice into us within 90 days, then it is not considered valid and we are not responsible for it," Surratt said. "It helps the vendor stay on top of things and keeps our administration and accounting in order."

Read the fine print.
Take the time to read the entire service agreement, including the small print, and let an attorney read the proposed contract. A facility also should craft some service-call scenarios to see if its expectations match what the vendor would do in that given case.

Get it in writing.
"After the equipment is installed and it requires service after five years, you have probably gone though three (vendor) service managers,'' Surratt said. "Whatever the first guy promises you, get it in writing."

-- Wayne Forrest
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