Levees break, but providers hold

Sunday, June 22, 2008

DES MOINES, Iowa - Half a mile from the roiling Mississippi River, staff at Heritage Medical in Burlington, Iowa, began calling patients in flood-prone areas.

"We asked about their plans, to make them start to think if they hadn't already," said Lelia Wilkerson, manager. "We asked them, 'Do you know where you are going and what can we do to assist you and get you set up?'"

Providers throughout the flood-drenched Midwest have spent the last couple of weeks activating disaster plans, as rivers throughout the region reach record-breaking levels, thanks to spring snowmelts and heavy rains. Flooding is an annual occurrence but this year is something else, said Wilkerson.

"You don't usually have houses and livestock washed away," she said.

Keokuk Area Medical Equipment in Keokuk, Iowa, didn't have to close their location on lock 19, but, with patients on both sides of the Mississippi River, logistics provided a challenge, said manager Debbie Donahue.

"We have a fully stocked van parked in my driveway on the Illinois side," she said. "The bridge has managed to stay open, except for between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m, but cars can only travel one lane at a time. I waited on the bridge three hours the other night to get drugs across."

Terry Flatt, executive vice president of Hammer Medical Supply in Marshalltown, Iowa, was chased by flood waters from VGM's Heartland conference only to return home and find his corporate offices on the banks of the Des Moines River in Central Place in danger of flooding.

"Wednesday, we purchased 1,000 sandbags and started sandbagging," said Flatt. "Thursday, the levees started breaking and Friday we were forced to evacuate. Up until then, we were on the phone taking new orders for oxygen."

The building escaped water damage.

Michelle Jensen, manager of CarePro Home Medical in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had to bring in a generator to fill tanks, as well as deal with patients who refused to leave their homes.

"They wanted us to deliver their tanks through water," she said. "We were running extra tanks to people without power and with roads closed it took up to an hour-and-a-half to get to patients."