There for Ostomates

The Pouch Place, Inc. has specialized in ostomy care for decades

By R.S. Elvey

In April 1992, a very unique store opened in Knoxville, Tennessee. Called the Pouch Place, it provided Ostomy Care and Supplies. Unique, because it was owned and managed by nurses. Now operating in two locations, how it came to be is the story of one very special and caring person, Beryl Evans.

Early Volunteering

Beryl grew up in a large family located in a suburb of New York City. Her father worked in the medical supply business. At home her father often spoke about his daily activities with medical professionals and hospitals. Beryl listened attentively, and while in high school she volunteered to be a Candy Striper. They were teenage hospital volunteers who assisted in various tasks and provided support in healthcare settings. Their name comes from the red and white striped aprons they wore in the 1960s. While volunteering, she realized she enjoyed working and caring for patients. Upon graduation, Beryl attended nursing college at the University of Virginia School of Nursing.

As part of her studies, she spent many hours working on the surgical floors. In 1969, her senior year, she found herself taking care of post-operative ostomy patients. She noticed that the major patient complaint was skin problems. At that time ostomy patients were using heavy rubber pouches with rubber or plastic face plates with adhesive. These appliances had trouble maintaining a seal and caused many skin problems.

Solving Skin Issues

All senior nursing students had to write an independent study paper. Beryl’s father made her aware of a new product called Karaya Seals. Karaya was originally a dental adhesive and a vegetable gum. She thought, “Why not use these seals with ostomy patients and put them between the barrier and the skin?” The application of these seals became the topic of her independent study paper. Once approved by the college, her father supplied the seals and the study with actual patients was completed. It was a total success reducing skin problems, infections and, most importantly, maintaining a good seal. Beryl realized that improving the lives of ostomy patients would be her life’s work.

After graduation Beryl went to Harrisburg Hospital, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and completed their enterostomal therapist course. Beryl then applied back to the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville. She convinced them, with the help of several surgeons, that the hospital needed an enterostomal therapist to work with their patients. She became the first enterostomal therapist in the State of Virginia and she would spend the next six years there. But in her second year, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Multiple Sclerosis

She now had a brace on her left leg. The hospital’s Nursing Services was concerned. They thought it would slow her down. It didn’t, however. Four years later, Beryl decided to move to Knoxville, Tennessee, to be under the care of a different neurologist at the Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center and be treated at their rehab center. At Fort Sanders, she continued working as a nurse but with braces on both legs. She performed her ostomy nursing with the assistance of crutches and a wheelchair. Fort Sanders also provided her nursing expertise to seven other area hospitals. Additionally, she worked shipping ostomy supplies to ostomates and billing insurers and Medicare. While working, Beryl attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and completed a Master’s Degree in Adult Education.

The idea of starting her own ostomy supply business had been on her mind for several years and then Fort Sanders stopped selling and shipping ostomy supplies. She saw how patients had difficulties in ordering supplies and dealing with ostomy problems and concerns after their surgery. So in 1991, after speaking with her father about her plans for her own business, it became a reality. He told her, “You can do this. You’ve got all the ambition to do it.” She never took any loans and with a friend she opened the Pouch Place and Clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee in April, 1992.

The Pouch Place is Born

Located in a 1,600 square foot strip mall store front, the Pouch Place started with two shelving units, a coffee pot, a typewriter and a clinic. To become known Beryl sent out letters to all her former and current patients, nurses, doctors, hospitals and friends saying, “We are here.” Immediately, all her patients came to buy supplies and made appointments in her clinic. Eight weeks after opening, the Pouch Place was approved by Medicare and other insurers for reimbursement. With Medicare’s approval came a rapid increase in ostomates seeking supplies and clinic appointments. Eighteen months after opening, Beryl knew The Pouch Place would be a viable and successful business.

By 2003, the business outgrew their original space and moved across the parking lot into a larger store front space. The staff was increased with an additional stoma nurse and support staff to manage the increase in customers.

Serving Chattanooga

A friend of Beryl’s called her from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and said the local hospital was closing its ostomy supplies business. Two hundred ostomates would have no source for supplies or an ostomy clinic. In 2004, the Pouch Place opened in Chattanooga servicing the needs of ostomates. Beryl continued running both Pouch Place locations until she stepped down in 2023. She turned the management of the stores to Rebekah McQuade, BSN, RN, CWON. Rebekah is now The Pouch Place’s executive director.

Today, The Pouch Place has over three thousand customers and patients and is very active in bringing their ostomy expertise and knowledge to the communities they serve. They provide space for the local support groups and publish their newsletters. Through their Share Program they provide ostomy supplies to the uninsured, indigent and homeless with the Red Cross and other social service agencies. Each store has a special section of supplies for their Share Program. Pouch Place nurses still consult with the local hospitals and doctors. They also provide ostomy training programs for medical support staff in care agencies and facilities.

Satisfied Customers

Here is what the Pouch Place’s patients are saying: Angi Martin, “After having emergency surgery six months ago that left me with an ostomy I had home health care that ordered my supplies. Now at home the hospital recommended The Pouch Place. I not only received excellent customer service, I also got a last-minute appointment with two absolutely amazing ostomy nurses. I can’t recommend the Pouch Place enough.” Deanna Lloyd says, “The Pouch Place provides a service available no place else, and knowing they’re there gives me great peace of mind.” And finally, Kristy Smith wrote, “I have been using them since 2010. They are very, very friendly and helpful. Anytime you need help, they are always there. They have everything you need.”

For 32 years the Pouch Place has remained true to Beryl Evans’s founding promise, “Attend to the needs of each patient as an individual first and everything else second.”

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