Providers navigate changed environment

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Friday, June 5, 2020

YARMOUTH, Maine – In the early days of the public health emergency, HME providers were focused on taking on discharged patients as hospitals made way for COVID-19 patients. Now, they’re caring for COVID-19 patients themselves.

“About 80% of the COVID patients are not sent to the hospital,” said Terry Racciato, president of RAC & Associates, DBA SpecialCare in San Diego. “We are actively seeing a number of patients in the home right now. They need oxygen, they need a BiPAP or CPAP, wheelchairs.”

In some ways, COVID patients represent a learning curve for providers accustomed to caring for patients with more common conditions like congestive heart failure and COPD.

Family Medical Supply sees new COVID patients every day, says provider Brad Heath.

“We are thinking (they will be on our service) anywhere from one to six or eight months, depending on their condition when they got diagnosed,” said Heath, vice president of operations for Dunn, N.C.-based Family Medical Supply. “Some folks recover fast; some may recover but the respiratory damage may mean they don’t come off of oxygen.”

Much of the country is re-opening now, but as essential businesses, most providers never closed down completely. Instead, they implemented remote work where possible, closed locations to the public and ramped up infection control protocols to protect employees and patients, and that’s not changing anytime soon, they say.

“We’re checking temperatures as people come in and requiring face coverings,” said Katie Roberts, director for Stillwater, Okla.-based Cimarron Medical Services. “We do have panic buttons in the pockets of employees working the front door in case someone (has a problem).”

Other providers say they will continue with distancing methods, like offering curbside service and outside delivery.

“If possible, we don’t go into the home,’” said Racciato. “For oxygen and other stuff, we do (the visit) on the front porch.”

One thing that hasn’t changed: equipment shortages, say providers. Jason Jones was down to his last oxygen concentrator last week, before managing to secure more.

“Back orders are the biggest thing,” said Jones, president of Jones Medical Supply in Troy, Ala. “We finally got over-bed tables; beds have been a challenge. We’ve put out almost every piece of inventory, but we’ve managed.”

Jones’ fingers are crossed. His rural county has recently seen an uptick in COVID cases, he says.

“One of the biggest misconceptions was that Alabama dodged it,” he said. “We’re late bloomers—in the last three weeks, we’ve seen 50% growth in (COVID cases), and now everything is re-opening.”