Helter-swelter: Soaring temps require providers to keep cool heads

Thursday, July 8, 2010

BALTIMORE - Record-breaking heat across the East Coast last week had providers taking extra precautions with their patients.

"We're telling patients to stay home as much as possible and limit their exposure to outside temps," said Ken Suter, president/CEO of Family Respiratory and Medical Supplies in Baltimore, where temperatures topped out at 105 degrees on Tuesday. "We're doing random checks on clinical patients and making sure that they have appropriate air conditioning in their homes and if not, advising them to go to a relative's home until it's over."

Last week's weather was especially dangerous for respiratory patients.

"The heat, the humidity and definitely the air quality can cause respiratory difficulty to pretty much anybody, but especially to people with compromised respiratory systems," said Lou Kaufmann, vice president, patient/client services for Germantown, Md.-based Roberts Home Medical.

For many providers, delivery drivers and other techs are the first line of defense in ensuring that patients are safe.

"Our delivery techs were briefed on signs of heat exhaustion so they could recognize it in themselves and in patients and were told to report it if they felt the patient was in an unsafe environment," said Pam Roath, director of education and compliance for Home Mediservice in the Baltimore suburb of Havre de Grace, MD.

At Mount Vernon, N.Y.-based Landauer Metropolitan Inc. (LMI), which covers the heavily populated tri-state metropolitan area of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, all of which endured 100+ degree temps last week, the provider had its eye on the power grid.

"We notify local (utility companies) of patients that are vent-dependent in the event of a power outage," said CEO Lou Rocco. "They are usually short, but they are frequent."

Landauer also made sure patients had backup batteries and cylinders.

Last week's heat came on the heels of the "winning" bid amounts in Round 1.2 of competitive bidding. The bids will drive down Medicare reimbursement in competitive bid areas by an average of 32%.

Still, even though it is expensive to provide the extra service they did last week, providers say they will try to find efficiencies in their business models that have the least impact on care.

"We've weathered the storm of many cuts," said Drew Devlin, vice president of clinical services for LMI, which is not in the current round of bidding. "We won't compromise the services that we provide our patients."