Ice Storm Tests KY Hospitals' Mettle

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , March 11, 2009

Methodist was also able to use the Internet, satellite phones ("they work a lot better when there isn't ice on the antenna," Nauser says), and cellular phones to communicate with vendors who kept the hospital well-stocked, despite the nearly impassible roads. The main supply point in Paducah, KY had been hit hard by the ice storm. So, Methodist's vendors, which include U.S. Foods, Cardinal Health, and Premier Inc., went north of the storm's wake and routed supplies through Indianapolis. "We did not miss a delivery," he says. "It may have meant bringing trucks in at 10 at night or later, but the basic supplies that you need was almost uninterrupted."

There was a huge—and unanticipated—demand for oxygen canisters for home-bound patients nearby. Methodist found itself cast into the role of chief oxygen supplier for the area after local durable medical equipment suppliers and retail pharmacies that normally sell oxygen told their patients they'd either run out of oxygen or couldn't get the product to patients.

"They were telling people 'go to the hospital because we can't take care of you,'" Nauser says. "Every other problem paled in comparison to the demand for home oxygen. Smaller hospitals, know where your DME is coming from." The ice storm and its fallout prompted Methodist to reconsider whether it will expand its role as oxygen supplier for the area in the future.

As they struggled during the week-long emergency to provide care and shelter, Methodist officials didn't have much time to reflect on their reaction to the weather disaster. "You get to the point where you're running on adrenaline," Nauser says. But during that frenetic week, no patients were denied care or shelter and services continued in an orderly way. "When it was over I wandered back to the apartment and started to reflect that this worked smoothly," Nauser says. "It wasn't perfect. We learned lessons for the next time. But our level of preparedness helped prevent a whole lot of problems. It was as close to business as usual as we could get under the circumstances."

John Commins is the human resources and community and rural hospitals editor with HealthLeaders Media. He can be reached at
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