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Hurricane Irene Spurs Emergency Home Medical Services for Patients

WASHINGTON, Sept. 2, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- From the Carolinas to New England, many providers of durable medical equipment and services spent the past week preparing their customers for and responding to the havoc created by Hurricane Irene.  Of particular concern to homecare providers are power outages, which can be deadly for people who require a ventilator for breathing or a concentrator to generate oxygen to treat COPD and other lung diseases or chronic heart failure.  

Millions of Americans nationwide need types of home medical equipment that require electricity, such as oxygen concentrators, ventilators, and nebulizers. During a power outage or evacuation, having an adequate back-up supply of oxygen or battery power is essential to the health of the device users, many of whom are Medicare beneficiaries.

"Providers of durable medical equipment are among the first of the first responders in natural disasters, power outages, and other emergencies that hit the frailest among us the hardest," said Tyler J. Wilson, president of the American Association for Homecare, that national association that represents providers of home medical equipment and services. "Ensuring safety and independence for people who require medical equipment and services at home prevents hospitalizations and ER trips, which also helps to control healthcare costs."

Several snapshots of activity during the past week follow:

Homecare Concepts in Farmingdale, New York has been delivering oxygen to patients who have lost power. The company itself lost power and employees have been coordinating care and service via cell phone to the more than 100 oxygen patients without power in the New York City area. "Those who were without power had additional gas [oxygen] cylinders delivered to them," said Joe Candiano, operations supervisor at Homecare Concepts. "It wasn't always easy as the guys were dodging downed trees and power lines to get to homes. This is not just a nine to five job."  

Mark Richardson at Home MediService in Havre de Grace, Maryland, said his company received at least 58 Hurricane Irene-related calls over the weekend and the company made two dozen trips to visit oxygen users on Sunday alone. "Many of our patients were very impressed that their oxygen company would take the time to call them and make sure they had adequate back-up.  Many were very thankful that we went out in that storm to make sure that they weren't at risk."  

EME Medical Equipment in Ephrata, Pennsylvania put all delivery, clinical, and management staff on alert for the weekend and lined up gas and liquid oxygen supplies. Ted Gress, a registered respiratory therapist and operations manager at the company, said high winds and heavy rains produced power outages over the weekend and the company delivered extra oxygen supplies to 10 patients on Sunday.  

Bill Bayer at Medical Express, Bristol, Pennsylvania, had flood waters at his own doorstep.  Bristol, located outside of Philadelphia along the Delaware River, was hit hard. He spent most the night before making oxygen deliveries and visiting respiratory patients. He added that Medical Express helped out several competitors who were swamped due to the massive loss of power in the area. Bayer had to improvise in some of the battery backups. "I was happy to be of service…. As a Registered Respiratory Therapist, I have always enjoyed the satisfaction from making a difference in respiratory homecare. Plus we kept a bunch of folks out of the hospital or from calling 911."  

"We contacted all high tech patients including nine ventilator patients before the storm, and spent two days prior the storm delivering extra back-up cylinders," said Stacey Cannon, assistant branch manager of Roberts Home Medical in Newport News, Virginia. "We spent approximately 40 hours after the storm delivering replacement back-up cylinders. We are still monitoring and delivering back-up oxygen to the handful of patients who are still without electricity."

Allcare Medical in Old Bridge, New Jersey activated its emergency operations plan the Thursday before the storm arrived.  David Fuhrman, senior director at Allcare, said the company had conducted drills for the scenarios and conducts an annual hazard vulnerability analysis.  "Although we have not had a hurricane before, we have had severe weather and the problems that ensue, and we were prepared to meet the challenge," he said.

Home medical equipment providers in other mid-Atlantic and New England states also helped patients beginning as early as Thursday, August 25, lining up extra supplies and contacting patients.  

Frank Trammell, president of Carolina's Home Medical Equipment, Inc. in Matthews, North Carolina, said, "Although Hurricane Irene posed no real threat to the Charlotte area, we used this as an opportunity to kick our emergency preparedness plan into gear for a practice run. We called all of our oxygen patients to ensure that all their back up tanks were, in fact, full and that they had a plan in the event of an extended power outage. I look at this exercise as a win-win as our customers were very appreciative of our proactive efforts and we had the chance to practice our emergency plan. We were fortunate to have avoided Irene's path."  

These are just some of the types of extra steps taken by hundreds of durable medical equipment providers nationwide during emergencies, whether caused by hurricanes, tornadoes, excessive heat, flooding, ice storms, or heavy snows. The companies receive no extra compensation from Medicare for providing emergency services.  Companies also responded with extra calls and visits during the July-August heat wave and during the flooding that struck Tennessee and neighboring states this Spring.  

The American Association for Homecare represents durable medical equipment providers, manufacturers, and others  in the homecare community that serve the medical needs of millions of Americans who require oxygen equipment and therapy, mobility assistive technologies, medical supplies, inhalation drug therapy, and other medical equipment and services in their homes. Members operate more than 3,000 homecare locations in all 50 states.  Please visit

SOURCE American Association for Homecare
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