Monday, December 10, 2007

what it's like manning the missouri winter storm hotline

wow. this winter storm hotline business can get pretty crazy... example:

a woman called about an hour and a half ago saying her mother had many special needs, including being oxygen dependent, paralyzed on one side, has a catheter and is diabetic. she only had 2 or 3 hours of oxygen left, and was heating her home with her gas oven. she called asking for batteries for flashlights and 2 or 3 oxygen tanks. we advised her that she should try to get to a shelter that can handle special needs because it is extremely unsafe to heat your home with an oven, and at this time we had no way of getting supplies to her house. she insisted that they had one window cracked about 3 inches to let the fumes out and they did not want to leave the house.

so i called the only shelter open in that area and asked if they could handle special needs. they said no, and that they were diverting special needs patients to the hospital. the red cross people stationed at the shelter advised me to call the local police to get the woman transported out of her home asap.

i called the police and talked to the chief, who told me that "oh crap" had become a technical term in the last 24 hours. he said that the only place that could take the woman was the hospital. i gave him her contact info and he said he would call her and try to transport her to the hospital.

i then called the woman back, and explained the situation and again insisted that the oven heating the house was very dangerous. she insisted on staying in the house and said that she would not go to the hospital because she would be billed for the visit. she also said that she had been trying to get ahold of her oxygen supplier all day and had not received any calls back from them. I told her that i would call the hospital to check on the billing situation, to see if there was an exception due to the disastrous weather emergency, and get back in touch with her.

i then called the police chief back to inform him that the lady did not want to be moved from her house, but he did not answer, so i left a message. I then called back my contact at the original shelter, and was informed that a new shelter was being opened in the basement of the city hall, and they might be able to accommodate special needs. I got the number, and called city hall, only to get ahold of the answering machine.

So then I called the hospital, and talked to the ER and found out that they, indeed, are billing patients upon admission because they do not have a shelter set up at the hospital. The hospital also informed me that I could dial 0 to get past the answering machine at the city hall, and i would be able to get in touch with someone there. I called city hall back, punched in 0, and talked to another member of the police department and told him about the woman's situation. he said he already had heard about her, and that the only place she could go was the hospital, because the city hall shelter also could not handle special needs. I told him she refused to go to the hospital because she would get billed. He said they had been sending people with special needs to the hospital all day, and he thought because it was an emergency situation, that the people were not getting billed. He then put me on hold, and asked someone else at the shelter about the hospital situation. As it turns out, the hospital had been billing patients all day and would not back down because of the emergency situation.

So then i called the red cross to find out if they could deliver oxygen to the woman's house. the red cross put me through to the disaster management chapter and they told me that they cannot, under any circumstances, carry oxygen, even for a CPR class because of liability and insurance issues. The red cross told me to talk to a different hospital than the one i had called earlier, to ask them about who their oxygen supplier is. So i called freeman hospital, and talked to the administrator in charge of getting their oxygen. The woman told me that their regular line was down- which explained why the woman in her home could not get ahold of them. Then, the administrator connected me to someone at the oxygen supplier and i gave them the woman's contact info and address, and i was told that the oxygen supplier would contact her and resolve the issue.

I then followed up with the woman and told her a very brief summary of everyone i had talked to since my last call to her, and let her know that she should be hearing from the supplier. She then told me that she had already heard from the supplier, and would be receiving 10 cylinders of oxygen soon. she still had no way of getting batteries for the flashlights, but assured me that her mother had been heating the house with the oven for years and had never had a problem. she also told me that they had cracked the front door and turned on the vent above the stove to provide more ventilation for the fumes. (i just realized that the vent would not work without power, so she might have been lying, or she doesn't know how the vent works.) i informed her that the oven might also spontaneously catch fire if left on for too long, which concerned me because of the oxygen and the candles. I also told her if she gets cold, to snuggle up with her mom and to be safe.

so the lady might still blow up, or suffocate from the fumes coming from the oven, but at least she has oxygen. it took me over an hour to do all of this, but at least she is (slightly) better off than she was when she called... (aka not dead... yet.)

sigh... i really hope she doesn't blow up.

p.s. my director just came in and aksed how it was going- and i told him this story and he said this was the sort of thing that needed to be written down. i then went and printed out this blog entry and he was not only surprised but impressed, and is now working on trying to get this woman out of her house. (yay!)

p.s.s. now the director is working on resolving this issue (with special needs patients getting billed by hospitals) on a state-wide level. awesome!

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