HME provider at ground zero

Monday, October 31, 2005

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. - Even though his home and business were severely damaged from Hurricane Katrina, Jody Compretta is among the lucky ones. Despite living in a trailer and operating out of his truck, his company, Patient's Choice, could be one of the first businesses in the storm's center to hang an "open" sign.
"It's like Mad Max," he said referring to the Mel Gibson film series set in a post-apocalyptic world. "There is literally nothing left here. No homes, no grocery stores, no gas stations, no postal service, no churches, no banks. Phone service is out for eight to 18 months. It will take many years for it to return to what it was before Aug. 28."
Compretta has reason for optimism, however. His office withstood the massive winds and pounding surf, and six weeks after the storm was well on its way to being rebuilt. His business records were preserved and some of his lost inventory has been replaced. Through it all, he has been able to keep his business going, albeit on life support.
Compretta's house still stands, but the storm surge caused massive flood damage, rendering it uninhabitable. His wooded lot looks like it was clear-cut, he said, as hundreds of trees were toppled.
Though his office managed to remain standing, looters stole the remnants of his inventory as he stood by helplessly. His fleet of six trucks is gone. Moreover, he has been fighting with insurance companies to get coverage for the damage.
"We have gotten exactly zero dollars from our insurance companies - they have no intention of paying their claims because they say most of the damage was caused by a flood, and we don't have flood insurance," he said. "The feds are going to have to bail us out."
Recovery has been slow and Compretta acknowledges that under the best of circumstances he faces tremendous challenges.
"As a small company, we never had a lot of money - everything is leased or financed," he said. "I have to replace all of my equipment and still pay debt on the old. I can't get product in here because I can't pay the bills. This thing is round and round. I don't know where you start. Every time I think I'm started, it's another problem, another problem, another problem."
Carolyn Cole, vice president-corporate communications for The VGM Group, contributed to this report.