Dialysis facilities in Louisiana again had to swing into emergency mode to ensure continuity of patient care during a major hurricane and its aftermath. This time, it was Hurricane Ida that caused widespread flooding, power outages, and impassable roads after making landfall in late August. Having learned lessons from previous big storms, especially Hurricane Katrina in 2005, dialysis facilities were ready for it.
Fresenius Kidney Care, one of the major dialysis providers in the US, activated its disaster response teams ahead of the storm and set up several command centers in New Orleans within a couple days of the storm passing through, said Jeffrey Hymes, MD, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Clinical Affairs for Fresenius Medical Care and Chief Medical Officer for Fresenius Kidney Care.
“These command centers worked to distribute generators, gas, water, ice, window air conditioners, washer and dryers, food, showers, and other supplies to support our employees,” Dr Hymes related. “It’s critical that we care for our employees so that they can care for our patients. Many of our employees were significantly impacted, or even lost their homes, yet still came to work to serve our patients. We also had dozens of volunteers arrive from surrounding states.”
DaVita Kidney Care, another major US provider of dialysis care, also was prepared for Hurricane Ida. “Heavy storm conditions made several centers inaccessible in hard-hit areas, such as New Orleans,” said Mihran Naljayan, MD, Group Medical Director for DaVita Kidney Care. “Thanks to the swift response of our teammates, physician partners, and local and state officials, we were able to provide safe access to treatment even during difficult conditions. Additionally, we brought in water tankers and generators to help keep operations going immediately after the storm. At this time, our focus continues to be care continuity for anyone in need and keeping patients out of the hospital.”
Hurricane Ida impacted more than 4700 Fresenius patients in Louisiana either directly or through evacuation, Dr Hymes said. “I am very happy to say that within 5 days, we located all our patients in the region and ensured they were receiving treatment.”
Dr Hymes noted that Fresenius learned a lot in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans particularly hard, but unlike that storm, Ida was more widespread in its impact. “It wasn’t just one city, but multiple areas were spread out over hours of distance and with impassible roads,” he said. “Getting our response into the more remote and hardest hit areas was challenging at first.”
With Hurricane Ida, dialysis facilities faced a big challenge with communication, Dr Hymes said. “Many areas were cut off without access to cell service, so reaching patients and employees was difficult. We are on a priority mobile network with specialized equipment for communication within our centers, and that was critical to helping coordinate our response.”
Another major issue was lack of electricity and clean water. “Power was out for days, so we had to ensure we had a constant fuel supply to keep our generators up and running, as well as bring in water tankers to ensure the water quality needed for dialysis treatment was available,” Dr Hymes said.