Providers in hurricane region prepare for the worst

Sunday, June 4, 2006

NEW ORLEANS - The 2006 hurricane season started quietly Thursday, with providers from the tip of Florida to the Louisiana bayous bracing themselves for the coming storms.

"Oh yeah, we're ready," said Jody Compretta, CEO of Patient's Choice in Bay St. Louis, Miss.--ground zero for Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the region last August.

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 bill 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."

Jeff Friedman, owner of Total Health Solutions in New Orleans, now has business interruption insurance but has noticed an alarming trend.

"Getting insurance is harder to come by," said Friedman. "All over New Orleans, insurance companies are pulling 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 simply gone.

"We lost 90% of our medical records underwater," said Compretta. He recently hired a company to create electronic backups of his filing system.

Other preparations are more tangible. 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 and a generator to keep his phones working. He also increased the company's stockpile of liquid oxygen.

Friedman is updating employee contact lists and said he will contact regular patients to suggest they stock up on supply items like catheters. 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.

With the mayoral election decided, residents in the Big Easy are looking ahead, but not without trepidation.

"The levee situation is still scary," said Friedman. "I don't think any of us feels safe."