Hurricane season: 'Oh yeah, we're ready'

Friday, June 30, 2006

NEW ORLEANS - The 2006 hurricane season started quietly June 1, and providers from the tip of Florida to the Louisiana bayous were bracing themselves.
"Oh yeah, we're ready," said Jody Compretta, CEO of Patient's Choice in Bay St. Louis, Miss., devastated last August by Katrina. Experts predict four to six major storms this year.
Compretta spent the morning at his insurance company making sure all his policies--wind, flood, business interruption--were in place. He is concerned with a proposed 400% increase for wind coverage. With three properties to insure, he faces a price tag of $12,000 per building if that happens--and he's still battling for Katrina clams.
"The roof blew off, but the insurance company said business wasn't interrupted due to wind," said Compretta. "They said it was due to the flood."
In New Orleans, insurance companies are pulling out of that market, making coverage harder to come by, said Jeff Friedman, owner of Total Health Solutions in New Orleans.
Friedman is updating employee contact lists and said he will contact regular patients to suggest stocking up on supply items. His new warehouse is 10 inches higher and expensive equipment will be moved off the floor, he said. Hurricane panels stand ready to keep the wind out.
One of the biggest challenges many providers faced after Katrina was lost records, without which reimbursement is nearly impossible. With doctors and hospitals in the same boat, entire medical histories are gone.
"We lost 90% of our medical records underwater," said Compretta. He recently signed on with a company to create electronic backups of his filing system.
Raul Lopez, director of Bayshore Dura Medical in Miami Lakes, Fla., has installed a gas filling system that will hold 500 gallons of additional fuel, a generator to keep his phones working and increased the company's stockpile of liquid oxygen.
"Prepare for the most you can prepare for," said Lopez, whose business wasn't badly affected by Katrina but went without power at home for 17 days.
Patient's Choice has teamed with LifeGas, a distributor of oxygen from Texas to the East Coast, to provide oxygen to patients wherever they are evacuated.
"In the past, we've lost a bunch of patients to Lincare and Apria," said Compretta. "If the patients get up and take their concentrators, now we can take care of them."
Meanwhile, residents in the Big Easy look ahead with trepidation.
"The levee situation is still scary," said Friedman. "I don't think any of us feels safe."