Persistence of providers pays off for patients

Friday, October 14, 2016

YARMOUTH, Maine – HME providers in the Southeast were prepared as ever when Hurricane Matthew made landfall on Oct. 8, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t face tremendous challenges.

Due to rising floodwaters, 10 of Family Medical Supply’s 18 locations in North Carolina were inaccessible for days.

“We called for extra tanks, we filled oxygen, but you can never prepare for this type of hurricane,” said Billy Tart, who co-owns Family Medical Supply in Dunn, N.C., with his brother Joey Tart.

Five days after the Category 1 hurricane pummeled North Carolina with heavy rain, 43,700 people in the state were still without power, and some areas were under 10 to 12 feet of water, according to news reports.

Deliveries in these areas were nearly impossible, says Brad Heath, vice president of operations for Family Medical Supply.

“That’s the biggest obstacle of this hurricane,” he said. “Deliveries that would usually take 15 minutes, took us three or four hours because the first three or four roads that you tried to go down were washed out and gone. It’s a matter of being persistent.”

That persistence—employees at Family Medical Supply have been working around the clock, accruing hundreds of hours in overtime—has paid off for patients.

“We cover 40 counties—half of North Carolina—and we’ve not told one patient to go to the hospital,” said Tart.

Preparations for the hurricane included providers calling patients to make sure they were also prepared.

“If a storm is coming, we know which patients we’re going to call first, second and third to make sure everyone has an appropriate generator or travel plans,” said Chad Rickman, Apria Healthcare’s market vice president of North Carolina and South Carolina. “And we go down that list to make sure everyone knows what we can and can’t provide throughout the storm.”

Apria is no stranger to extreme weather events. In August, Apria employees contacted more than 700 patients and travelled through dangerous weather to successfully deliver equipment to hundreds of displaced families due to flooding in Louisiana.

Whether it’s flooding, fire, wind or ice storms, Rickman says Apria employees at different branches often share and compare notes with each other and adjust standard emergency plans based on what they’ve learned.

“Upper management and risk management will say, ‘We didn’t think about X until it happened in Louisiana,’” he said. “‘Let’s make sure this is in our plan for flooding going forward.’”