(2nd Installment: Home Medical Equipment Providers Overcome Major Storms to Help Patients)Family Medical Supply is headquartered in Dunn, NC with 18 locations in the state.
While the sun rose to a clearing sky on Sunday morning, October 10, the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Matthew just a few hours before was only beginning to be realized.
"Roads were washed out in some places and completely gone in others," states Joey Tart who, along with his brother Billy, owns Family Medical Supply and its 18 North Carolina locations.
By the time emergency crews were assessing the storm's damage the Family Medical team was already at work, delivering over 300 oxygen tanks that first day to patients over thousands of square miles.
"No matter how much you prepare for an event like this you cannot completely predict the obstacles your team will face," adds Billy. "We have a very committed group who worked days on end to look after oxygen and ventilator patients. We worked with emergency services and even the National Guard in an area we couldn't access due to flooding.”
"That first day's obstacles were only the beginning of one of the longest weeks in recent memory for DME companies across the southeast. By Monday, the orders for oxygen had almost doubled and the downstream communities were suddenly coming to terms with flooding that would take out highways, interstates, and most importantly, direct access to patients. The Tart brothers had drivers that were taking three and four different routes to try to find a way to serve patients in dire need.
"It's two weeks out and we are still trying to assess the amount of lost and damaged equipment," reflects the Tart brothers report. "We have heard from the Department of Health and Human Services and from BlueCross/Blue Shield concerning how to proceed with looking after these patients. So far the only thing we've gotten from Medicare is more audits."
"We are paying hundreds of hours of overtime, working with emergency services to access patients and going the extra mile for patients that Medicare does not want to pay us for because the doctor signed or dated the orders in the wrong place. The patient visits have run into the thousands, but at this point we do not know of a single patient that had to go to the hospital because we could not get to them."
That last sentence is what is missed in the modern understanding of a DME business. An industry that is having a definite impact on hospital costs through its commitment to service is only seen as a boxed goods provider by policy makers. The most undervalued aspect of any industry is the bill that is not yet due. What would a couple of thousand extra hospital admissions cost Medicare last week? Let's hope we do not have to find out after the next hurricane. Call your congressman and ask him to roll back the ruinous cuts for HME providers serving rural communities.