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‘Flat-out miserable’: Pacific Northwest providers work through heatwave

‘Flat-out miserable’: Pacific Northwest providers work through heatwave

Erik MickelsonSPOKANE, Wash. – With scattered power outages and ACs operating at maximum capacity, HME providers in the Pacific Northwest were working overtime to make sure staff, particularly delivery techs, stayed cool and hydrated, and patients were taken care of. 

“We’re making sure people are staying hydrated,” said Brandon Whitney, an ATP and customer service team lead for Inland Medical and Rehab in Spokane, Wash. “The delivery technicians are on the road all day long and we have to plan around that.” 

A heat dome settled over the region last week, sending temperatures soaring over 100 degrees, including 117 degrees in Salem, Ore., 108 in Seattle and 111 in Spokane, Washington, according to national news reports. 

The region typically sees average temperatures of 68 to 73 degrees at this time of year. 

“It’s flat-out miserable,” said Erik Mickelson, CEO of Howard’s Medical, which has locations in Yakima and Sunnyside. “All of our vehicles and buildings are air conditioned. We just don’t go out outside.” 

For provider Joel Gallion flexibility was key as he sought to manage Bellevue Healthcare’s more than 12 locations in Washington, Oregon and western Idaho. 

“Two of our locations got too hot and we ended up closing early on Monday,” said Gallion, president. “For our technicians, we provide ice, coolers, Gatorade and water, and pushed to get as much done as early (in the day) as possible.” 

While extreme heat can be a concern for respiratory patients, providers say they fielded few crisis calls. 

“We had a few areas lose power, so we did have to do some urgent tank deliveries,” said Gallion. “Beyond that, more than anything, it was just a bit of contingency planning.” 

Something providers did get quite a few calls about: Oxygen concentrators don’t work well above 95 degrees, causing them to send out alerts, says Mickelson. 

“When the oxygen purity on a concentrator drops below 90% it will beep at you and say it’s not working but it is still working,” he said. “We tell them to take the concentrator to a colder place (like a senior center).” 

With little relief in the forecast – temperatures are expected to drop this week in many areas but remain well above average – providers say they try to keep it in perspective. 

“I’ll take high heat over wildfires any day,” said Mickelson. “That’s what’s next.”


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