Providers in Midwest feel winter woes

Thursday, January 7, 2010

MIDWEST – HME providers in the Midwest aren’t strangers to cold, snowy winters, but last week, in some areas, they confronted wind chills as low as 52 below zero and blizzard-like conditions.

“We’re not normally this cold,” said Tiffany Walsh, vice president of operations for Select HME, which has locations in Bartlesville and Tulsa, Okla. “This is exceedingly cold.”

Midwest providers last week took extra precautions due to a long stretch of below-freezing temperatures and snow that started over Christmas. They called oxygen patients to make sure they had additional backup tanks in case of power outages or delayed deliveries. They asked patients about nasal dryness due to using cannulas in their warmer and drier homes (If they are, physicians may authorize adding moisture to their oxygen). They also called patients just to see if they were OK.

“We ask if their heaters are working,” said Walsh, who has about 480 oxygen patients. “We ask if there’s anyone checking in on them. Some patients may not want to reach out, so we reach out.”

Providers also took extra precautions with their delivery techs. They made sure vehicles had winter tires and bags of sand in the back, and they required techs to wear YakTrax, a traction device that slips on over shoes and boots.

“Driveways may look plowed, but in these temperatures, they’re probably still icy,” said Gary Miller, director of Mt. Carmel Medical Equipment in Pittsburg, Kan., which has about 250 oxygen patients. “Or the walkways are. It’s a safety issue.”

To improve their response times in cold and snowy weather, providers had respiratory therapists take extra concentrators and ventilators with them. That way, if they get an emergency call in the middle of the night, they don’t have to stop to pick up equipment.

“Regardless of how bad it is, even if roads are closed, we have to get it there,” said Jackie Semrad, the compliance officer for Reliable Medical Supply in Brooklyn Park, Minn., which has about 200 oxygen patients.

Much of what providers do is above-and-beyond what’s required, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“A lot of these patients—they’re our neighbors or we’ve been servicing them for years and years,” Walsh said. “We had a nurse switch her scripts to us and we asked her why, and it turned out her husband is one of our oxygen patients and she said, ‘You thought to call him before a blizzard. I think enough of that to give you all of my business.’”