Progress slow but sure in Gulf Coast

Saturday, December 31, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - Three months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, a changed business environment continues to test the resourcefulness and determination of HME providers.
"We're slowly seeing some patients are no longer with us," said Tonya Ladner, an accounts payable worker at Patient's Choice in Bay St. Louis, Miss. "Some are in another state and they're contacting us. We sent out letters and tons came back because the addresses no longer exist."
And, with few local doctors, referrals are down. Ladner estimates business stands at 30% to 40% of pre-Katrina levels.
In New Orleans, where flood waters drove away thousands, providers are also coping with fewer residents. Only 20% of physicians have returned and most hospitals remain closed.
Linda Watrous, manager of Rent-Tech in New Orleans, is still trying to track down her equipment.
"Equipment that was on patients that were evacuated has not been accounted for yet," said Watrous, who also has equipment in hospitals that have not reopened and are under military guard.
Watrous said Rent-Tech plans to expand outside of the Gulf Coast region.
After a couple of lean months, business volume is normal again at Total Health Solutions.
"We've seen a slew of new customers," said owner Jeff Friedman. "It's all been different.We never did a lot of ostomy, but the one provider in town (is gone). We've got 'kids' who have parents living with them coming in to buy items to accommodate them in their homes."
Friedman has also picked up business replacing equipment, but, overall, he remains cautious, operating with fewer people now than before Katrina.
In Houston, where many Louisiana evacuees went, some providers picked up a few patients, but not many. Terry Respiratory picked up about 10, but it was less about gaining business and more about helping those in need, said James Duvall, director of clinical services.