Derecho Storm Impacts Midwest Providers

Published in Member Communities on September 01, 2020

A few weeks ago, devastating storms hit Iowa and Illinois and caused widespread destruction, power outages, loss of internet and phone services, gas shortages and more. But those challenges were just the beginning of what was to be figured out and fixes for many VGM & Associates members who were impacted by the Derecho 2020. Some of our members had minimal damage and only lost power for a short amount of time, while others like Mercy in Clinton, IA were without power for longer and had to keep operating with shop lights and extension cords. One member, Advantage Home Medical in Monticello, IA, did not have any damage at their location, but made sure all of their patients were taken care of by driving out to see them. 

A recurring theme between our members is an all-hands-on-deck mentality to take care of their patients and others, and we are so grateful and proud of each and every member not only during challenging times, but for what you do each and every day!  

Here are a few stories from our members! 

UnityPoint At Home

With locations all over Iowa, UnityPoint At Home embraced the all-hands-on-deck mentality to take care of their patients. The storm hit around noon that day when their team was in the office, and there were multiple technicians on the road or in patient homes. During the storm, the team felt like the roof was going to rip off. Those who were out driving looked for cover and hoped that their vans did not fly away like the semi trucks they saw being thrown from the roadway and buildings being torn apart in front of them.  

UnityPoint At Home's main focus was supplying patients with oxygen tanks since they had no idea how long this would last. They could only provide enough tanks to get through 24 hours and had to continue to make deliveries day after day to meet the needs. Des Moines was hit with many power outages, and so the Vice President and Director Pat Reeves were delivering tanks and other supplies to patients. Their Quad City location was affected as well with a power outage and patients needing tanks and supplies. Cedar Rapids was hit the worst with storms registering 140 mph as the data reports. 

All patients have power, but many are displaced due to damaged homes. UnityPoint At Home is now out trying to pick up the many tanks delivered over the last 2 weeks.

The biggest challenge for UnityPoint At Home was knowing if they had enough tanks to service their patients, as well as being able to get to them with all the power lines down and trees across the roads.  

For UnityPoint At Home, there were many late nights, overtime, and working through the weekend to take care patients. Throughout all of this, Carrie Dempsey, Director of HME Operations, learned how amazing her team was. 

"Everyone was willing to put in many extra hours to make sure our patients had what they needed and completing job responsibilities they don’t normally do," said Carrie. "They were truly amazing as they were dealing with no power and damage at their homes, but still being dedicated to our patients."

CarePro Health Services

Cedar Rapids was hit with 140 mph winds during Derecho on August 10. At the time the storm hit, the employees of CarePro were at the office went to the basement for safety. They came back upstairs to find trees and debris all over the parking lot and streets. Unfortunately, some of the trees damaged employees’ cars. The storm left pretty much ALL of Cedar Rapids with severe damage and without power for most of the week, even longer for some citizens.

A critical issue CarePro had right away was that oxygen customers were unable to use their concentrators and CarePro wasn’t able to fill oxygen tanks. CarePro’s warehouse location also did not have power and experienced damage affecting their ability to fill oxygen tanks for patients. CarePro needed a large quantity of tanks for their oxygen patients that were without power, and to assist their patients served from their other three branches impacted as well. With the critical need for a large quantity of tanks each day they were able to rent some tanks from Airgas and/or had Airgas fill larger tanks to help meet patient needs.

Other patient needs fulfilled were primarily related to respiratory, including portable nebulizers and batteries for PAP devices. CarePro also provided critical replacement of other products as needed. Most of the patients they served were their active patients, but some were community members receiving similar services from other providers. They did work cooperatively with local DME providers, EMS and emergency personnel as they learned of community members with medical equipment needs. Like many other providers, CarePro had many late nights, overtime, working without power and working through the weekend to take care of patients. 

Communication was also a huge challenge. The storm impacted employee communication and patient communication. Without power, communication was limited, and cell phone access was intermittent. Often, patients or patient family members drove to the store for assistance.

Two weeks later, while most of the community has had power restored, there are still some areas without power. Today, CarePro is still dealing with the storm aftermath. They had one location just open back up as of Monday, August 24, and they still have damage to their warehouse that could take months to repair. From this disaster CarePro learned that they need to continue to consider different types of communication. They also discussed the need for additional back up locations outside of their current geographic area. While they do have locations that were not impacted as greatly as the Cedar Rapids area, they still experienced various challenges because of the storm. 

NuCara Home Medical

Weathering the Storm of 2020

Provided by Autumn Kline and Michelle Willenborg of NuCara Home Medical 

As if the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t bad enough for our staff and patients, on Monday, August 10th mother nature unleashed her own wrath on Iowa.   

As an Iowa-based company, we have seen the best and worst of what weather can surprise us with, and Derecho was no different. In Des Moines, the storm hit us on Monday around 11 a.m. while we were at work. This storm was hurricane-strength with windspeeds of up to 130 mph, causing billions of dollars in damage. After the winds subsided and the rain vanished, we began to understand what kind of impact this had on our patients and their well-being.  

All hands-on deck quickly became our motto because we knew if we didn’t have power, neither did our oxygen, NIV, CPAP, and BIPAP patients. Our Des Moines, Urbandale, Newton, and Marshalltown locations were all affected with significant power outages and some damage. Staff at our local branches implemented their emergency response procedures, and with all our employees accounted for we began the process of getting in contact with our most vulnerable patients.  

We went through between 500-1,000 oxygen tanks during this time. Our Des Moines location received 100 tanks from Chariton, IA; 60 tanks from Oskaloosa, IA; 40 tanks from Nevada, IA. Our Marshalltown location received 60 tanks from Oskaloosa and Ottumwa, IA. Our Newton location received 100 tanks from Oskaloosa and Ottumwa, as well. Our supplier, Airgas, came later in the week to the branches impacted to deliver more tanks so we could keep up. Our Newton location had worked with the Red Cross so that a couple patients could gain access to a safe place to stay that had power for their oxygen concentrator. 

With how widespread the storm was, our staff all had to quickly work as a team and shift from their normal daily duties. Managers became drivers to pick up additional oxygen from locations that weren’t affected. Billing staff became part of the frontline to answer cell phones to work with our triage team. We all worked hard to keep our patients out of the emergency rooms. Our on-call team worked most of the night that Monday making emergency oxygen deliveries.   

Many of our employees had extensive damage, including trees through their roofs and significant vehicle damage. Even with personal struggles at home, they showed up to ensure our patients were taken care of.   

Marshalltown isn’t foreign to weather emergencies. In 2018, they had a tornado come through downtown where it suffered extensive damage. Our Branch Manager, Peg Moler, stated, “The tornado was bad, but as widespread as Derecho was, we had so many more patients that were impacted.” The Marshalltown branch faced the longest amount of time without power, internet, and phones. They didn’t have power for a full week.  

Today, we are still dealing with picking up and exchanging empty backup tanks from our patients. The Marshalltown area still has residents without power, so we are still providing backup systems in this area. Our customer service team is still playing fax catch-up with our normal referrals outside of oxygen.   

This storm was nothing like we have ever experienced before, as four of our twelve home medical locations were without power, phones, and internet for up to a week. Our CEO, Terry Flatt, said it best in a memo to our staff: “Everyone kept things running as smoothly as possible. We hope to never experience a week like we had ever again.” A thank you goes out to our staff, referral sources, and patients for being patient as we worked through the weather emergency.  

Genesis Home Medical

Davenport was hit with a power outage, affecting Genesis Home Medical’s oxygen transfilling warehouse for about six hours. All the employees were in the office when the storm hit. The power came back on the next day, but the lack of it put them out for a while on tank refills. Genesis contracts with Airgas and had a good supply of tanks on hand, but they still needed additional tanks and dewers to get them by. Genesis Home Medical provided tanks to all their patients and even to their competitors’ O2 patients in area that did not have the capability to transfill or get tanks. Today, they are in the process of collecting the extra tanks they distributed.  

Overall, one of the biggest challenges that Genesis Home Medical faced was when U.S. Cellular service went out, causing their work phones to be down. Communication was a challenge, and they had to transfer their phones to a personal Verizon phone. The amount of calls coming in was very difficult to keep up on. Genesis Home Medical learned that it is very important to make sure oxygen patients have back up tanks and a back-up plan in case the power goes out. They serviced a lot of patients that were not their customers, but other providers’ customers that couldn't meet the demands. 

We know of several other VGM & Associates members who were impacted, and we want to remind you that we are here to help in any way possible. If you need assistance, please reach out to us. We are here for you. Thank you for all that you do! 


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