Amidst wildfires, providers continue care to patients

Sunday, October 28, 2007

SAN DIEGO - Fires that scorched nearly half-a-million acres of Southern California stretching from Malibu to the Mexican border last week didn't stop providers from helping their patients.

"We are providing equipment to whoever needs it," said Eric Nelson, an intake coordinator for SpecialCare in hardest-hit San Diego. "Our disaster management plan is working very well. Patients have a phone number to call us, and we've called some in the most desperate areas to make sure they are OK."

With hundreds of thousands of residents evacuating to safer areas, power outages and freeway closures have added to the chaos.

"We have patients that relocated to non-affected areas," said Carol Ashley, president of Ashley Medical in San Diego. "Everyone, as instructed, has taken their stationery oxygen systems with them. Our disaster plan works. We've kept it simple to be flexible."

Ashley has picked up several new oxygen patients as a result of the fires. The Los Angeles Times reported spikes in hospital visits for respiratory problems caused by smoke, ash and dust.

There's so much debris that Chris Rice, director of marketing for Riverside, Calif.-based Diamond Respiratory Care, said there's a half-inch of ash on cars.

"I'm under smoke right now," he said. "Even if you're healthy and you walk outside, it's horrible. It's like a bad campfire."

Farther to the north, in Malibu, industry consultant Jack Evans, reached by e-mail, said he spent "three sleepless nights watering the lawn, trees and roof" at his home, which escaped serious damage. Driving into central Malibu, however, was an eye opener, Evans wrote.

"(There's) scorched earth, from the ocean to the highest peaks--all is blackened," he wrote. "There are burned out cars along the highway and all of the roads. The canyons and the Pacific Coast Highway are closed to all but emergency vehicles."

Also working to help patients:

* Apria, which has 20,000 oxygen patients in the affected counties, had to evacuate its San Diego facility, but it managed to keep delivering oxygen, including to evacuees at QualComm Stadium.

* Lincare said it was working around-the-clock to monitor more than 12,000 respiratory patients, including 4,500 on home oxygen.

* Pacific Pulmonary, in Novato, contacted each of its 4,000 affected patients to assess their needs and provided oxygen and emergency supplies to shelters.

* San Diego-based manufacturer SeQual provided oxygen for patients at shelters who had run out or not taken their equipment with them.