Electricity blackout boosts demand for backup oxygen

Monday, August 18, 2003

August 19 , 2003

NEW YORK - When the lights flickered and died in cities throughout the eastern United States and Canada on the afternoon of Aug. 14, 50 million people found themselves affected by the country’s biggest blackout in history.

Dealing with their own electricity problems, like downed phone and computer systems, HME suppliers also found themselves faced with an overwhelming demand from people requesting oxygen backups for oxygen concentrators.

“We started getting calls in the late afternoon and early evening, and all the way through the evening we got calls,” said Patrick Egan, division president of American Home Care Supply in West Seneca, N.Y. “We had seven guys running around delivering tanks last night.”

In Farmingdale, N.Y., Home Care Concepts’ employees staffed the company’s offices until 2 a.m., answering phones and making deliveries as patient oxygen supplies dwindled and the blackout dragged on through the night.

“Our drivers were on the roads all night, and it was tough getting into the city, especially since the traffic lights were not working. Once you got in there, it was bedlam,” said Frank Brown, executive vice president of Home Care Concepts in Farmingdale, N.Y.

The problem of oxygen concentrators loosing power did not go unnoticed by emergency units and city officials in the affected areas as well. The mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, set up a hotline for the elderly to call if they were having trouble with their oxygen systems, according to a report on National Public Radio. The mayor also asked citizens to check on their elderly neighbors, especially those on oxygen, to help them make the necessary arrangements to get supplies.

The blackout kept many areas in the dark for extended periods of time. Many places had regained electricity by Friday morning, but others made due without power well into the weekend.

“We were very fortunate,” Egan said. “If we ever had a total blackout in the area, I don’t know how any dealer could handle it for an extended period of time because you can’t get enough tanks. It’s not even a matter if you can deliver them, you just can’t get them.”

Added Brown: “[The blackout] was, for some, a lot of fun, but certainly not for those who were wondering when their next breath would be.”