Hurricane Harvey: Providers begin clean up, question CMS policy

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Friday, September 1, 2017

HOUSTON – As the massive flooding left in the wake of Hurricane Harvey began to recede last week, HME providers were starting to assess the damage wrought by the historic storm.

Provider Craig Yager was finally able to get into the Pasadena location of InterMED Medical Supply. Although the office stayed dry, the surrounding area had been submerged.

“My Dickinson storage was a total loss, but my Pasadena storage is OK,” said Yager, owner. “I’m working with Special Needs at Sea to donate 10 wheelchairs to area shelters.”

Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 on the Texas Gulf Coast as a Category 4 hurricane. While it quickly lost strength, it stalled over the area, dumping 15 to 30 inches or more in many areas. Houston received nearly 50 inches of rain, according to news reports.

Unsurprisingly, phone calls to several Houston-based providers were met with recordings stating they were closed. One provider who had just gotten into her office for the first time on Wednesday asked to be called back in another week or so.

“We are trying to deal with people that don’t have clothes and shoes,” she said. “It’s a lot to process.”

Provider Javier Vera began preparing for the storm well in advance, contacting oxygen and nutrition patients to establish whether they were evacuating or staying put, loading delivery vans with supplies and staying in contact via cell phones when they lost power.

“I had each driver take a van home and if someone needed something, I could call the driver nearest to them,” said Vera, branch manager for the Corpus Christi location of Travis Medical. “We are working with the Red Cross and certain agencies and response teams in Corpus. We’ve also started a donation site for medical equipment and have gotten a good response.”

Numotion, with 10 locations in the affected area, closed its two Houston locations, set up a help line for its employees, and rerouted customer calls.

“Individuals that did not evacuate in advance those that were rescued or have ended up at a shelter without their mobility device may be completely immobile,” said Mike Swinford, CEO. “We’ve been working with the mayor’s office in Houston and United Spinal to coordinate the donation of hundreds of walkers, wheelchairs and canes.”

He’s also been offering support for employees. At press time, five employees and their families had lost everything.

“We are trying to take care of them,” he said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has declared a public health emergency for Texas, which allows CMS to waive certain requirements to prevent gaps in care. Those waivers apply to skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies and hospitals. Providers are seeking clarification on whether there is a provision in Medicare guidelines to allow non-contract suppliers to provide DME in disaster areas.

“There are a lot of people without,” said Yager, who was originally told beneficiaries must directed to contract suppliers. “They are going to need those items back, and to have them have to go to a contracted supplier during those times—it’s inexcusable.”