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Providers deliver, despite already stressed infrastructure

Providers deliver, despite already stressed infrastructure ‘One of our techs had to be dug out of the ditch (while making a delivery)’ 

HOUSTON – Already taxed by the COVID-19 pandemic and equipment shortages, HME providers went to great lengths to continue servicing patients during a devastating ice storm in Texas. 

The storm, which brought snow, ice and single-digit temperatures to a state ill equipped for such conditions, knocked power plants offline for lengthy stretches. In some cases, providers were forced to tell vulnerable patients to dial 911. 

“We only had seven tanks of oxygen, and we dispensed those the first day, Monday, and then were telling oxygen patients to call 911,” said Laurie Bachorek, COO of Grand Prairie-based MetroCare Home Medical Equipment, whose territory includes the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “That was horrible.” 

Bachorek said she felt like she’d won the lottery when MetroCare managed to procure an additional 33 tanks in the face of shortages that have the company waiting 16 weeks to get concentrators. 

“We were able to go back to oxygen tank deliveries,” she said. “We kept our guys off the road as much as possible, but (after procuring the additional tanks), we didn’t turn down any referrals. One of our techs had to be dug out of the ditch (while making a delivery).” 

Also in short supply: batteries used to provide back-up power, says one Houston-based provider, which focuses on pediatric vent patients.  

“We only carry so many batteries,” he said. “We delivered every spare battery we had. Those batteries only last four to six hours. After days of no power, some after just 24 hours, we were telling patients to call 911.” 

Provider RJ Poonawala told customers to make sure they placed their orders and pick them up ahead of time, a lesson learned from Hurricane Katrina. 

“As a retail store, we don’t a high-volume of oxygen patients, but some customers are self-pay,” said Poonawala, owner of Spring Branch Medical Supply in Houston. “That was the No. 1 thing we were getting calls about. We closed Monday to Thursday – we had no way to get anybody to the store. We can sense frustration from case managers.” 

With icy conditions and road closures making it difficult to deliver equipment, another provider was also the target of frustration. 

“We got screamed at – that we were negligent in not delivering tanks,” he said. “But we can’t get there – they shut down the freeways, overpasses and roads. One of our drivers actually parked his truck and walked to deliver a couple of tanks.” 

Pediatric Home Services found itself stepping in when large distributors of supplies, including enteral nutrition and incontinence supplies, shut down. 

“We had a lot of people on the ground delivering inventory from our locations in Dallas and Houston and San Antonio,” said Howk Bethel, general manager. “It was kind of a math game – is it something we could take six of to get them through. I call that a win – we were there for them and that made me proud.” 


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