Post-Katrina, industry awaits word from providers

Friday, September 30, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - In the days following the worst natural disaster to ever hit the United States, members of the HME industry felt helpless as they awaited word on the fate of peers in the devastated Gulf Coast region.
"We're hearing very little back," said Liz Moran, executive vice president of Medical Equipment Suppliers Association, whose organization includes 31 members in Louisiana. "My sense is that so many are without power and therefore without communication."
Moran sent an e-blast to Louisiana members asking how the association could help them.
"We have not heard back from any of them," she said. "We're pretty much powerless to do anything."
"This is just totally unprecedented," said Michael Hamilton, executive director of the Alabama Durable Medical Equipment Association. "It's the first time I remember phone service just dead."
But with storm victims most likely scrambling for basic necessities, Hamilton admits that checking in with the association is not a high priority for affected members.
Anthony Whitehead, of Glass Seating & Mobility in Oxford, Miss., is located a few hundred miles away from the storm and considers himself lucky.
"There's nothing, I mean nothing there but debris," said Whitehead, who was without power and water for several days. "I know some of the guys down there. (One guy), he's just three or four blocks off the Mississippi River. I hope he's not there."
With nearly 80% of New Orleans under water following the storm, and millions without power and shelter, it's impossible to predict what will happen to the HME industry in the area.
"You can't operate in the area, it's uninhabitable," Hamilton said. "The customer base won't be able to come back for months or years."
Nevertheless, within days of the storm, some were already trying to gain a sense of normalcy. Michael Yant, president of Medical Solutions in Jackson, Miss., made it past downed power lines and trees to reach his office where he checked his voice mail. Fortunately, he had power, unlike 80% of the city. The situation that confronted him was daunting.
"We're overloaded; people that live here need relief," said Yant. "There's assisted living facilities, shelters without power. I have hospital beds, wheelchairs and nebulizers I could offer but no way to get it to them. My patients may need it, but I don't know what to do."