Epic snowfall puts providers on standby

Friday, November 21, 2014

BUFFALO, N.Y. – HME providers say this week's record-breaking 7 feet of snow dumped on Buffalo and parts of Western New York hasn’t hampered operations—much.

“We’ve gotten calls, but none of them have been emergencies,” said Jim Travis, president of Buffalo Wheelchair in West Seneca. “We have people calling, wanting us to come fix a break on a wheelchair, not knowing that our office and all of our trucks are under snow. It’s two separate cities right now. The north hasn’t been hit; the south has been destroyed.”

Sandy Fermoile, president of Apnea Care, can attest.

As Fermoile looks out of his office window in Buffalo onto green grass, employees only 10 miles away in West Seneca, are digging out from several feet of snow. Overall, five out of 10 of the company’s branches, along with more than 60% of the provider’s oxygen patients, are inaccessible due to snow-covered roads and a driving ban. Still, Fermoile hasn’t experienced any major issues.

“So far, knock on wood, we haven’t had any issues,” said Fermoile.

Should an oxygen concentrator need replacing, however, providers have plans in place, they say. 

“We have an automated system where we put out automated calls to (patients’) phones to let them know that the storm is approaching or to let them know that they can call us at any time,” said Mark Centolella, vice president of operations for Apria’s Northeast Division. “If they do run out, we’ll come and service them.” 

The mode of transportation for most providers? Snowmobiles, says Travis, an old hat at winter weather.

“We’re in touch with our local emergency services department and if someone did need (emergency care), they would snowmobile the equipment in,” said Travis, who personally responded to patients via snowmobile during the historic blizzard of ‘77.

Once the snow stops and the roads clear, providers say it will be business as usual—once they catch up.

“What we’ll do is we’ll take half of our customer service staff and put them on the road, to make deliveries as quickly as possible,” said Travis, “including me.”