Another call to duty

Friday, October 31, 2008

HOUSTON--In September, after Hurricane Ike swept the coast of Texas and barreled north, providers, some still without phones and electricity, were going to great lengths to continue caring for patients.

At Pro2 Respiratory Services in Cincinnati, where Ike’s remnants delivered 69 mph winds, all employees, from the president on down, were distributing oxygen cylinders to patients.

“A number of our employees have been out from sunrise to sunset every day for the past five days,” said John Reed, executive vice president and COO for Pro2, on Sept. 19. Ike, a Category 2 hurricane, crashed into the Houston-Galveston area on Sept. 12, resulting in massive power outages and flooding. Still packing hurricane-like winds, its remnants reached states like Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

In addition to having all hands on deck, providers waited in long lines at gas stations to fill their delivery trucks. Some struggled to get oxygen cylinders filled by distributors that were also without electricity.

“We almost ran out,” said Bruce Cook, operations manager for American Medical Equipment in Houston, which was without power until Sept. 15. “We were down to 45 cylinders on Tuesday.”

Premier Home Care in Louisville, Ky., was driving empty cylinders to Lexington, about 55 miles east, to get them refilled.

“Since (Sept. 14), our staff has been working 16-hour days to support home oxygen patients,” said

Wayne Knewasser, the public relations officer for Premier. “We’re starting to get a handle on it.” At The Wheelchair Shop in Houston, before electricity was restored on Sept. 15, employees were doing work by window-light. They used a generator to charge wheelchair batteries and then used the batteries to power up their computers.

Employees at The Wheelchair Shop were taking care of not only patients but also each other.
“The grocery stores and restaurants still weren’t open and our freezers were thawing rapidly, so everyone brought food to work, said Nancy Rice, who owns The Wheelchair Shop with her husband, Paul. “We grilled the first day we were open.”