Rick Wagner • Sep 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Nany Hart shows off one of her company's hospital garments. David Grace photo.


Nancy Hart and her family are working to turn tragedy into triumph with her Patient Scrubs business.

The company’s Catchalls brand grew out of watching and caring for her ailing husband, retired Florida highway patrolman and sheriff’s deputy Robert Lee Hart Jr. He died in a Florida hospital in 2003 at age 59.

The garments — a shirt and short pants — include slots for medical equipment such as intravenous fluid lines, catheters, telemetry and other monitoring wires, stomach tubes and chest tubes. They also have plastic snaps that allow the tops and bottoms to be put on or taken off without pulling them over the patient’s head or off the patient’s feet.

The front of the garments completely detaches from the back giving easy access to the body, and making it easier to change the patient.

And the new Patient Scrubs do a better job than traditional one-piece, one-size-fits-all hospital gowns when it comes to covering the wearer’s bottom.

“I’m trying to give people back their dignity,” Hart said of the business, RLH Jr. Inc. named in honor of her husband and based in Gray.

The business started in Florida in January of 2004 but later moved to Tennessee after Hart and her daughter, now a student at East Tennessee State University, moved to Gray.

“My husband actually wore the first prototype that was hand stitched,” Hart said of a garment she and his sister made themselves.

Since then, she has redesigned the garments several times. That includes using plastic snaps instead of metal ones, which could cause problems for patients who retain excess fluid.

Why move to Tennessee?

Nancy Hart and her husband in April of 2003 were visiting Northeast Tennessee and put a deposit down on a house in the Goshen Valley community of Hawkins County, near Church Hill and just west of Kingsport.

They never got to buy it, but she still wanted to move to this area.

“He just loved Tennessee,” Hart said of her husband, who had a 35-year career in law enforcement in Florida. She is a native of Michigan but grew up in the Jacksonville area, where she met him.

Her late husband served in the Army Honor Guard and was a pallbearer for President Kennedy. He was stationed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, worked as a police officer for 35 years and was involved in Civil Air Patrol, the Sheriff's Youth Ranch and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

They met when she hired him as a security guard for an apartment complex she was managing.

She said her husband, a Wilmington, N.C. native, always wanted to live in Tennessee. And before he went into the hospital, he told her if anything happened to him he wanted her to get their daughter, then-17-year-old Jenifer Hart, to Tennessee.

He entered the hospital on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2003, after having a stroke the day before that. He had cardiac surgery and carotid artery surgery.

“We lived in the hospital the first two months. We slept on the visiting room floor on an air mattress,” Hart said.

Her husband, who was treated in four facilities, somewhere along the way got a staph infection. He died Oct. 31.

After the family buried him and her daughter finished high school, Hart and her daughter moved to Tennessee — to a house in Washington County.

Hart’s three-story log cabin in Gray has one floor dedicated to the business, but she said she plans to lease warehouse space as the business grows.

Her business was a finalist in last year’s small business start-up contest sponsored by the Kingsport Office of Small Business Development & Entrepreneurship, a non-profit economic development organization that represents a partnership between the city of Kingsport and the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I started out as a housewife and took all this on,” Hart said. “Instead of buying somebody flowers, wouldn’t it be great to give them their dignity?”

Line to expand in 2009

The line includes adult-sized garments in various colors and patterns, and a children’s line and long pants are to be widely available in 2009, although orders are being taken for children’s garments. and long pants.

On the children’s shirt pockets and pants front will be the company trademark, a yellow duck with red pants that’s modeled after a small duck Jenifer Hart gave to her father the day he went into the hospital, something he kept with him all the time.

The children and adult products can be ordered on the company’s Web site, but Nancy Hart said eventually they may show up in retail stores.

The final garment is the product of five years of development. Nancy Hart said she consulted with Robert’s primary care physician and cardiac surgeon to ensure the product would meet doctors’ needs when worn in a medical environment. Those two doctors continue to be involved in the development of Patient Scrubs.

She also sought input from a variety of nurses and other medical practitioners, including respiratory and physical therapists.

In addition to those consultations, Nancy Hart took a job at a dry cleaning business to become more knowledgeable about the care and quality of different fabrics.

The garments are made of a polyester/cotton blend that is machine washable, and the design allows the scrubs to be changed or removed without the patient leaving the bed. She said they can help reduce the chance of infection and can be worn over incontinence products.

A large contract with a hospital or nursing home would increase her volume enough to lower the prices overall, with larger purchasers receiving a lower price for quantity purchases.

She also plans to market to nursing homes and home health providers, as well as individuals with friends or family in the hospital or being cared for at a nursing home or at home.

She said the garments also should reduce the chances of injuries to health care workers or patients, reducing liability for workers compensation and patient injuries, since the design makes it easier to handle, move and clothe patients with limited mobility and/or strength.

Marketing of Patient Scrubs starts in earnest

“We’re going to start out with the public,” Hart said of sales on the company’s Web site, although she said she’s been in contact with hospitals about the garments.

The adult-sized shirts and short pants sell for $21 each or $38 a set, with 2XL sizes selling for $23 each or $41 a set. The items are striped and gray, with the 2XL available only in gray.

Prices and ordering are available at www.patientscrubs.com.

“We have to get the prices down as low as we can to get in the hospitals. But we have to be sure we don’t put out an inferior product,” Hart said, adding that the business is meant to honor and remember her late husband. “I just want this to help other people.”

She is taking care of marketing in Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina, with Remedy Medical Equipment Inc. of Palmetto, Fla., doing marketing in that state.

She said her son, Michael Setzer in Jacksonville, Fla., also is helping with the venture.

Hart has sent prototypes of the Patient Scrubs for use by soldiers in Iraq, to patients in Mexico and other locations. She said one set of the garments was being worn by a patient at Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport after a neighbor asked for a set.

“It’s something good that’s come out of something really horrible,” Hart said.

Hart can be contacted at (941) 730-5650, (423) 895-1534 or nancyjhart12@gmail.com.

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