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Hurricane Ian puts home care to the test

Published: 09/30/2022

One of the strongest hurricanes in United States history is challenging home care and home health providers in Southwest and Central Florida. 

Hurricane Ian slammed into the West coast of Florida Wednesday afternoon as a powerful Category 4 hurricane, packing 150 mile-an-hour winds. The storm left more than 2.5 million Floridians without power Thursday. Power outages coupled with flooding, blocked roads and gasoline shortages made it difficult for home care agencies to deploy staff to clients’ homes throughout the region Thursday, according to Kyle Simon, director of government affairs and communication for the Home Care Association of Florida.

“I spoke to one agency who has a contract with a fuel company in Texas and he’s trying to figure out how to get that [fuel] over to the Naples area where his agency is located,” Simon told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. “Obviously with all of the other things that are happening with gas — fuel costs rising and everything — that is going to be a challenge for them.” 

In anticipation of the storm, Simon said many home care agencies moved vulnerable patients to shelters and other facilities. Agencies also had mutual aid agreements in place with other home care companies to provide care to patients if they were unable to do so. 

Dialysis concerns

Still, Ian has been a test for a healthcare industry increasingly moving care away from facilities and into homes. Fresenius Kidney Care mobilized response teams, including utility companies, to ensure that patients using home dialysis machines could get power and water restored quickly in the event of outages. Patients using Fresenius’ NxStage home hemodialysis machines could also switch to bagged dialysate — a fluid made up of water, electrolytes and salts — instead of using tap water, a Fresenius spokesman told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse in an email. 

But some dialysis patients may not be able to stay in their homes. Dialyze Direct, which provides in-home dialysis services to approximately 140 patients in Florida skilled nursing facilities, is working with the Florida Office of Emergency Management to help dislocated patients if necessary.

“If a patient is being evacuated to any of our locations, we will work with them to see what we can do to help them locally to continue dialysis,” Dialyze Direct President Josh Rothenberg told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse.

Worsening workforce shortage?

Ian could have other repercussions for healthcare providers, if it takes weeks or even months for the region to recover. Displaced workers could decide not to return to their homes or their jobs — exacerbating a caregiver shortage that was a crisis long before the hurricane hit.

“I hope it’s not the straw that is going to break the camel’s back,”  Simon said.