Hurricane Florence has wreaked havoc across North and South Carolina, testing home health agencies’ emergency preparation plans. With 40 care centers across the two states, Amedisys (Nasdaq: AMED) is no exception. Its efforts have been spearheaded by Iris Rancatore, assistant vice president of clinical risk, who began to lead disaster preparations for the provider after going through a harrowing experience during Hurricane Katrina.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based Amedisys has more than 17,900 employees who work across 420 care centers in 34 states and Washington, D.C. In North and South Carolina specifically, the company has 8,425 home health and hospice patients and 1,655 employees.
Hurricane Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm last week but that doesn’t mean the danger has passed for residents of North and South Carolina. The death toll across the Carolinas has risen to 37. North Carolina is reporting about 182,830 statewide power outages as of Wednesday. Several counties in South Carolina are prepping for further flooding — as rivers rise — that could last into next week.
With this as the backdrop, Home Health Care News reached out to Rancatore to learn what draws her to this work, how Hurricane Katrina inspired her to do more and what Amedisys does to prepare for storms like Florence.
What did you go through during Hurricane Katrina?
During Hurricane Katrina, I was a director of operations and responsible for three Amedisys care centers: Hammond, Slidell and Mandeville.
The hurricane was not originally supposed to impact Louisiana. Late Friday, the storm changed directions and was marching straight for the Gulf Coast area. We had extremely limited notice and time to prepare for this massive Category 5 Hurricane. Immediately and with little time to spare, staff began to contact our patients to prepare them and finalize their evacuation plans, as we were moving to evacuate ourselves.
Hurricane Katrina was devastating to our community. Many of our employees and patients suffered catastrophic damage to their homes. My home suffered major damage as well. We also lost two of our home care agencies, Slidell and Chalmette. And some of the recovery efforts were impacted by the communication systems being disabled by the destruction. Creative communication became a necessity.
After the storm, I made it my mission to ensure that my agencies would be as prepared as they could be for an unexpected disaster. This included implementing communication plans between our corporate headquarters and local offices, as well as the local authorities.
What is your current role at Amedisys?
After Hurricane Katrina, I moved to the corporate office to join the clinical team. Whenever a disaster struck, I volunteered to work with the team on the recovery and response efforts. I helped to coordinate the corporate response and serve as a liaison between local leadership and our corporate leaders ensuring all requests got to the right people. I also worked to improve our preparation and disaster readiness across the company. Our experiences during Katrina prepared us to deal with other emergencies that would soon follow.
Eventually, this did become a part of my job.
Are there particular things you’re doing that are unique to Florence?
This storm is unique in that the event itself is still taking place.
Normally with hurricanes, the storm comes through and we can begin the recovery phase. With Florence, however, water continues to rise in several North Carolina communities, and we have several employees and patients who have not yet been able to go home to see whether there is any damage. In some areas of the states we are in the recovery phase of the storm, while in other areas we are still being impacted by this catastrophic storm.
What draws you to this work?
I’m drawn to this work based on my own experiences with hurricanes and disasters.
After Hurricane Katrina, the Amedisys family took care of their employees affected by the storm. The emotional and financial support was overwhelming from all over the company. The assistance and love helped each and every one of us find hope in such a desperate situation.
I can never repay what my fellow Amedisys family did for me, so an opportunity to give back with participating in the relief efforts was my first step. I feel very blessed to be a part of such a great team that jumps into action when called upon.
Hurricane Sandy, in the New York and New Jersey areas, was another relatively recent storm that caused a lot of destruction. Any lessons from that event?
Hurricane Sandy was a wake up call that hurricanes can happen anywhere. It presented challenges due to widespread energy failures which compromised communication between providers and patients. Staff in the area worked around the clock to reach patients and family members to ensure their safety and assess medical needs.
At Amedisys, we begin preparing our patients and families for disasters during our very first visit with the patient. We assess their needs and determine their acuity level for how they would fare during a natural disaster. We make sure they have an evacuation plan, including transportation needs, in place, whether it’s moving to stay with their son or daughter or into a facility nearby. If they have special needs, we know we’ll need to work with durable medical equipment suppliers to get back-up oxygen tanks and we’ll inform electric companies of homes with patients who depend on electricity to run equipment so they can prioritize it.
Doing all the preparation ahead of time is the key to our success as an agency.
We attribute our success to the emergency preparedness and education of our patients and employees prior to a disaster, as well as the creative and innovative recovery solutions implemented by our corporate support staff on site and here in the corporate office.
What do you personally do in your role in the days leading up to a disaster like Florence?
In addition to working throughout the year with local agencies to develop their own disaster plans, which includes training and conducting disaster drills, I assist the corporate team in preparing for the disaster.
I also host twice-daily calls leading up to, during and immediately after a disaster with regional and corporate leaders. In the preparation phase, the calls focus on preparation activities/needs of patients and staff.
The goal is to ensure that we are meeting the health, safety and security needs of our staff and patient population during an emergency or disaster situation. We remain in constant contact with our agencies and regional leadership throughout the emergency. In the recovery phase, the calls are focused on the post-disaster needs of our patient and staff, ensuring that resources are maximized to respond to these needs. I also serve as a resource to each local leader so they know where to go or whom to talk to for requests.
Our goal prior to and during recovery is to provide as little disruption to the care of our patients.
Written by Kaitlyn Mattson