To stare down disaster, you need a plan

Thursday, September 30, 2004

YARMOUTH, Maine - Hurricane Charley, which struck Florida in August, reinforced once again the need for providers to have an emergency preparedness plan that can be easily implemented when disaster strikes.

“You don’t want to wait until you are 12 hours from being hit by a category three storm to pick up the phone and start calling hospitals to try and find a bed for your patients on life support,” said industry attorney and consultant Richard Tuten. “You don’t want to be calling an oxygen manufacturing facility 12 hours before the storm hits trying to get extra cylinders. You want those relationships already in place.”

Lincare, for example, has a long-standing hurricane preparedness policy, said company spokesman Joe Grillo. The plan includes calling patients before the storm hits and asking them about their evacuation plans, which gives the company a better chance of locating them after the storm.

The company also maintains extra portable cylinders and liquid oxygen systems to provide to patients during power outages, he said. If necessary, the respiratory giant can pull employees and equipment from branches not affected by the disaster, as it did following Charley.

An HME, however, need not be a billion-dollar company like Lincare to cope effectively with an emergency.

Encore Respiratory operates four branches in the area ravaged by Charley. Following the storm, Encore cared not only for its own patients but also for those of other providers not as well prepared, said president Mary Miller.

The JCAHO-accredited company has had an emergency-preparedness plan in place since the day it opened six years ago.

“We’ve never used it before now, but we review it annually, usually in June before the hurricane season,” Miller said.

The plan involves calling all oxygen patients prior to a storm to make sure they have enough oxygen cylinders to get by for 24 hours without power. Encore also has a strong relationship with its supplier of bulk oxygen. Charley hit Florida Friday Aug. 13, and by noon Saturday, Encore had distributed just about all its gas.

“I called [our oxygen supplier] and within two hours they had brought me every tank that they could so I could continue filling my tanks,” Miller said. “And on Monday morning they brought us 20 more. They have been wonderful.”

That’s the way to do it, Tuten said.

“The ones who don’t have that emergency preparedness plan in place and don’t have those relationships predefined, they’re going to be at the back of the list,” he said. “If there are cylinders left over, you’ll get the oxygen. If there are beds left over, you’ll get the beds.”
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