Providers stay cool despite heat

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The recording-breaking heat wave that burned across the United States from coast to coast in July and August had providers scrambling to keep their patients cool.
"The biggest piece is making sure friends or family are checking on them," said Gary Miller, manager of Mt. Carmel Medical Equipment in Pittsburg, Kan., of his elderly oxygen patients. "As a provider of oxygen services in this community, it's important for us to be aware of what's available for our customers in this community."
It's that old double whammy of heat and humidity that can make breathing particularly difficult for respiratory patients, said respiratory therapist Alan Cross, president of C&C Homecare in Bradenton, Fla.
"The sheer stress of the disease, (combined with weather conditions) makes breathing difficult," said Cross. "Portability is a problem. We encourage patients to stay indoors in air conditioning."
While many patients in traditionally hotter areas of the country like Florida have air conditioning, it is not uncommon for the elderly on fixed incomes to try to limit its use to save money, said Cross.
Dave Mills, co-owner of Chesapeake, Va.-based First Choice in Homecare, has in the past gone so far as to approach charitable organizations to help out patients with no air conditioning.
"We end up crossing paths with one or two patients who have no air conditioning," said Mills.
The front line of defense for most providers when it comes to checking on patients: delivery techs.
Miller supplied his drivers with information sheets on heat stress in the elderly that he downloaded from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.
"The information is there," said Miller. "We just have to make sure the right people get it."
Above all, say providers, patients need to use common sense when dealing with extreme heat. That includes staying hydrated, limiting movement and paying attention to signs of heat stress, said Diana Guth, owner of Los Angeles-based Home Respiratory Care.
"They need to listen to their bodies, said Guth. "They think they can go about their business and they're really at risk."