From the Contributor’s Corner: When Disaster Strikes…Call Me, Maybe? Part I

Health Wolters Kluwer Law & Business will periodically feature posts from outside contributors who are members of our Advisory Board. Today’s post comes from Allan P. DeKaye, MBA, FHFMA.

Like many of my neighbors living in the South Shore of Long Island, NY, I heeded the warning…”Hurricane Sandy was coming!” The news tracked her path with every broadcast, except when breaking for commercials featuring the latest iPhone and other newer technologies. I began the fulfillment of my emergency checklist: batteries, bottled water, canned food and ice. Don’t forget cash! Cellphone charged–check, gas tank in the car full–check. I found the box in the basement marked “retired” and blew the dust off my battery-operated radio and a telephone–you know–the kind that plugs directly into a jack. It’s what baby boomers call land lines,” no electricity required.” My arsenal was complete.

Hurricane Sandy, (conveniently reclassified as “Superstorm” Sandy–deeming “flood damage” a policy exclusion resulting in an uninsured loss for many) hit. It’s been about a month since Sandy wrecked havoc on our shores. Those with power witnessed firsthand the tragic reality captured on television and the Internet: Homes burned to ground, elderly trapped in top floor buildings, tunnels inundated with raging flood waters, and hospital evacuations. While the advance evacuations were planned as part of a well-choreographed ballet, a major New York City medical center faced a far more daunting opera. Due to the river’s flood waters cascading over the highway and street, the basement generators blew out. It was an eerie sight watching the news (while I still had power) to see hundreds of ambulances lined up on nearby streets awaiting transfers of patients from the darkened and stricken hospital. The nurses holding newborns wrapped in warm blankets awaiting transport to a safe and powered location. The term “back-up” generator seemed obsolete.

I was one of the lucky ones, only without power for 4 days. However, my mother-in-law’s home was not as fortunate. Having lived in her home for almost 60 years without a drop of water damage, the shock and surprise of water soaked carpets, lifeless appliances and no electrical current, and car cup holders filled with sea water was almost too much to believe. I quickly shifted roles from observer status and riding out the storm to first responder in order to help my family. Calls needed to be made and a game plan had to be crafted. Cell phone service was spotty at best and texting revealed hours of delayed messaging. Where was technology when you needed it?

In a society driven by smartphones and technology, I found myself almost powerless, literally. Upon returning to my home, my survival kit lay on the table waiting for use. I plugged in my plain-ole telephone into the jack which allowed us to file insurance claims for my mother-in-law’s home and car. The battery operated radio warned that cold weather and a Nor’easter was approaching; adding insult to injury we were advised that major sewer treatment plant was flooded, knocking out all of its capabilities. However, the irony wasn’t that the old-fashioned radio and telephone proved to be my most valuable assets; it was the paradox wasted on listeners reminding people to call various “800” numbers and different websites. “Call us at 1-800 or visit us at www….” I wish I could if I had any service!

We take for granted all of today’s modern conveniences. When the lights don’t go on with the flick of a switch, and the gas pumps stop pumping, we can become inventive and resourceful. The gas grill became a source for cooking food and beverages. Gas powered utilities made taking a hot shower possible. Having a 5-gallon gas can (or two or three) got you enough fuel to drive around or run the generator—albeit while enduring a 1-3 hour wait on the gas lines.

Once power was restored, it made making an online FEMA application possible—although, there were a number of FEMA sites established to allow people to register in person when their homes were uninhabitable and sheltering options limited. I must say with 24/7 phone operators available, and a large cadre of boots-on-the-ground staff, they provided my mother-in-law and thousands of others with much needed grant assistance for home repair and temporary housing. Their response and presence earns kudos!

While Sandy preparedness was good in some regards, it showed us our vulnerabilities and weaknesses—especially regarding our power grid, and its far-reaching impact and consequences that slowed recovery. Now would be a good time to get started on strengthening these Achilles heels. I’d like to think there was an “App” or “Apps” for better handling the various types of emergencies that so many faced—and will no doubt face again—unless we invest in eliminating these vulnerabilities. An ounce of prevention (although estimates place it at perhaps a ton or two)—would be a good way to start.

Check back tomorrow for Part II!

Allan P. DeKaye, MBA, FHFMA, has over 40 years of experience in the healthcare field. He is President and CEO of DEKAYE Consulting, Inc., a national firm specializing in Revenue Cycle Management. Mr. DeKaye has an MBA in Healthcare Administration from Baruch College of the City University of New York. He currently serves on the editorial advisory boards of several industry publications. He is a Fellow in HFMA, and has received several of their merit awards, including its Medal of Honor.

He is the author of the well-respected text, The Patient Accounts Management Handbook. He has written many articles appearing in various industry publications. Mr. DeKaye’s Emphasis on Education(sm) programs have been attended by over 7,000 participants, and he is a frequent speaker at national, regional and local trade association conferences. DEKAYE Consulting, Inc., also maintains strategic alliances with data, decision support and technology companies.