Dispatches from the dining room: Notes on the coronavirus

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04/01/2020

My most important task as a reporter when it comes to any crisis happening in the world at large is talking to HME providers to find out what’s happening on the front lines. What are you seeing? What’s been the impact? What are you doing? What do you need everyone (especially policymakers) to know?

We do this fairly frequently (hurricanes. competitive bidding. locusts). In-house, we refer to it as the disaster beat. However, nothing could have prepared us for the disaster unfolding in real time. The coronavirus pandemic has been unlike anything else I’ve covered in nearly 15 years at HME News. Providers are well and truly in the thick of a healthcare disaster that changes daily and they (and we) are doing our best to keep up.

I’ve been lucky to talk to quite a few of you, in quick snatches of phone calls taken at my dining room table, shouting into a speaker phone and praying the noise from the kitchen isn't too loud.

PPE? NOPE.

PPE remains the No. 1 concern for most of the providers I talk to. Brad Heath laughed out loud when I asked him.

“We have some distilleries making sanitizer for us,” he said. “We have been able to get some gowns. We started using shower caps as shoe covers at one point. As far N95 masks, we have a massive amount of orders and we can’t get those.”

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE

Like the rest of us, HME providers are also concerned about contracting Covid-19, but unlike many of us, lots of those positions can’t be done from home. At Bedard Pharmacy, they are doing their best on social distancing, says Sean Andrews.

“We have space to segregate each department,” he said. “They each have their own break rooms, bathrooms and they can’t go into anyone else’s.”

DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT

Tyler Riddle has been keeping an ongoing log of the situation as it unfolded in his corner of Georgia. He’s got an eye to the future.

“At the end of this, we are using all of this information to strengthen our narrative so when we go back to Congress we can say, ‘Hey, competitive bidding is egregious, this is what we do on the front line,” he said. “Or when UnitedHealthcare tries to cut reimbursement in three to six months. When a third-party says they are going to go back and audit all these claims we have a strong record of everything we did.”