City recognizes entrepreneur Brian Hicks sees a medical void, fills it
On a sunny afternoon, Brian Hicks goes fishing with his older son at Onota Lake.
On a sunny and colder afternoon, he may drive to Ashley Falls or to Alford, on icy back roads, to help a house-bound patient under doctor's orders to have blood drawn.
Hicks has two sons, 4 and 8 years old, who visit him in the summers. Last summer, he said, he took his older son to a Red Sox game to have his photo taken with Big Papi, and got his son baseball cards before the game, so his son would know all the players.
He remembers that carefully planned day with a glow of laughter and energy.
Energy and planning have brought him a long way.
This winter, Pittsfield awarded him Best of Pittsfield in the Medical Laboratory category. Hicks has an extensive background in medical laboratory sciences, 10 years in the field and two master's degrees in medical laboratory science and in business administration.
And he has an unusual business model.
He saw a need -- he saw doctors frustrated because lab tests results come back so slowly or because patients were slow to have the tests done -- and he saw people who were in pain, or trapped by the snow, or unwilling to go to a doctor when they needed one. And he saw an innovative way to meet the need. He brings the tests to them.
In August 2012, Hicks founded Clean Image, a 24-hour mobile medical lab.
His is an unique kind of business, especially in the northern half of the country. He came to the Berkshires from Houston, Texas, and before that from Atlanta, Ga.
"I always had a passion for the medical field," Hicks said.
Born in Tennessee, he volunteered at a local hospital in high school and worked as a rehab aide while in college in Atlanta. He worked in hospital maintenance, and he was accepted into a one-year medical technology program at the University of Florida in Jacksonville, covering the usually two-year internship at high speed.
Then he visited medical schools. He had always wanted to go to medical school. But as he considered the seven or more years of school he would have still to come, he decided he would rather start to work immediately -- and travel -- and work with people, and start his own business.
He began with a consulting business in Houston, which he still runs, often working with clients in New York. He earned an MBA and is working toward a doctorate in business with a specialty in health insurance.
Coming to North Adams on a chance assignment, he decided the Berkshires could be fertile ground to build a new business. Clean Image has grown quickly, he said, with a combination of inside knowledge and technology.
"I can do everything from my phone," he said: schedule patients, take orders securely, deliver confidential results.
Because he is a medical laboratory scientist, hospitals will work with him, and insurance will cover his tests. The judicial system will refer people to him for drug screenings. Parents trying to get a child back will get screened to prove to family services that they are free of illegal drugs and alcohol.
Through diligent networking, Hicks said, he has expanded to cover a 50-mile radius outside the Berkshires, from Hartford, Conn., to Albany, N.Y.
He can draw blood samples, run screens for drugs, tests for STDs, allergy or breast cancer panels, pre-screenings for men's health and more. He does not diagnose, he emphasized. If he sees anything out of the ordinary in a test result, he will promptly refer the patient to a doctor to look into it.
"I respect doctors," he said.
Some people come to him for privacy, he said. Some come because it's cheaper, depending on their health insurance. Some are house-bound by the ice, or from illness, and they welcome a lab that will come to them.
If he draws blood on a doctor's order, he added, that service is free for the patient.
People can come with a doctor's order or pay out-of-pocket, Hicks said. He offers discounts and payment plans -- and he has helped people who have no health insurance, or not enough, to find care.
He often works with Porchlight VNA in Lee and with Jeffrey Kellogg, a physician's assistant with Berkshire Mobile Medicine, who does house calls.
"When it's your own business, you work harder," he said. "It's your baby -- and you have more flexibility."
He has met obstacles, he said. Because his service is unique in New England, it is unfamiliar to many people. But he loves it, and he never gives up.
"It's a passion," he said. "It helps me to get up every day to have a go at it."
On the Bridge
In honor of Black History Month, in this column we have chosen to introduce an entrepreneur and Berkshire innovator.
This series of profiles is a collaboration between Berkshires Week & Shires of Vermont and Multicultural Bridge to encourage voices from all backgrounds in these pages.
To hear more of these voices, visit www.berkshireeagleblogs.com/onthebridge.
To meet them in person, join us
at Mason Library, 231 Main St., Great Barrington, at 7 p.m. on March 10, for a conversation with Bridge columnists and people who have talked with us, as part of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers.
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