HME industry contemplates Katrina's long-term impact

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Friday, September 30, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - As days go by and much of New Orleans and other areas along the Gulf Coast are still wet and without electricity, the HME industry is contemplating the long-term repercussions of the disaster. Even for those whose paths Hurricane Katrina spared, the future is uncertain.
In mid-September, Kent Louviere said Acadiana Plastics Manufacturing in New Iberia, La., was currently operating at 100% capacity, but it might not be so lucky in a month or two, if it can't replenish its supply of resin, which it uses to make vials and other plastic products.
"Some of the big refineries are knocked out; they can't get their natural gas," said Louviere, the owner. "We're OK for September and October, hopefully. I've got resin secured, but for how long, nobody knows."
Wayne Vega, also of APM, shared his boss's concern: "In October, it might be much more significant than we think."
Right now, APM, about an hour and a half west of New Orleans, is re-routing its trucks through northern Louisiana. It's also asking its customers, including respiratory and oxygen providers like Lincare and Rotech, to place orders as early as possible.
Michael Hamilton, executive director of the Alabama Durable Medical Equipment Association, couldn't help but contemplate the worst. He, too, was lucky enough to be out of harm's way, but with major oxygen manufacturers in the area out of production, he feared for beneficiaries.
"This is going to shrink the supply of oxygen that's available -- everywhere," he said. "The obvious solution, which is what they're doing, is to get people out and get them in shelters far enough from damaged areas so that normal service is available."
Even in areas where normal service is available, however, HME providers struggled with questions about the rules for replacing damaged or lost equipment and submitting claims, especially for cap-rental equipment, industry sources said (See related story on page XX).
To help its members wade through the aftermath, the VGM Group set up a 24-hour hotline, 800-822-7830, and an emergency Web site, www.hmehurricane.com. On their respective Web sites, VGM and The MED Group (www.medgroup.com) both had links containing information for equipment needed and equipment available for donation.
The MED Group is also personally coordinating deliveries of equipment, said Bill Elliott, president and CEO.
"Texas Emergency Management contacted one of our members and asked for 100 manual wheelchairs for refugees," he said. "The member had 12 and we're working with other members and our vendor partners to get the remaining chairs."
Vernon Pertelle, Apria's corporate director of respiratory and HME services, said the company was working with emergency management officials, and following the storm, was in the process of accounting for its patient base.
"We need to know where they are and what type of equipment and backup support they need," he said. "That's the biggest thing."
With the rush to provide those in the Gulf Coast area with what they need, whether it's HME or food and water, it was difficult for the industry to focus on the repercussions, at least for now.
"We've been dealing with the immediate so much, that I haven't given it a lot of thought," Elliott said. "Clearly, this is a human, environmental and economical disaster of almost biblical proportions. People who service others are even in need of service, because their businesses have been destroyed. I don't know how the industry will recover, but I do know it's a caring industry based on partnerships, and we will rebuild."

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