When the power goes out, the time on the air supply ticks down for those dependent on in-home oxygen.
Through the winter storms sweeping the last week, power outages spelled problems for those needing to keep connected to oxygen tanks.
Deputy Fire Chief Chad Black said the department handed out some 50 spare canisters of oxygen on calls during the outages. Engines began carrying a few spare bottles for callers not needing hospitalization.
Northeast Georgia Medical Center prepped a waiting room area for those needing to hook up to the hospital’s machines, stocked with snacks and blankets.
“Once they got here, either by EMS or whoever it was, we let them hook right in to some oxygen, and we provided the tanks and concentrators and stuff like that,” said Northeast Georgia Health System emergency preparedness manager Jennifer Davis.
Some 10 or so people needing oxygen sought refuge in the waiting area or in the emergency ward, receiving equipment for those who didn’t have it. Another handful, Davis said, were being discharged and still had no power at home.
After talks with the American Red Cross stationed at the First Baptist Church, some of the oxygen-dependent were able to move to the warming center at the Gainesville church.
“We had everything set up for them so they wouldn’t have to be so uncomfortable sitting in a waiting room at a hospital,” Davis said. “They were actually at a shelter and would get up-to-date information on whether their power was out and these volunteers could really help them.”
Hospital staff reassured those visiting the hospital that no billing would take place unless a physician came to see them.
Shelter manager Joe Figueredo worked at First Baptist Church, helping newborns and the elderly stay out of the cold.
“If they’re elderly or what have you, they just can’t handle the lower temperatures,” he said.
The center served 47 people at its peak, Red Cross Northeast Georgia Disaster Program Manager Mike Riemann said, with around a third of those having medical issues.
A therapist, Figueredo said, came in for a whole day to help with mental health problems for those at the shelter.
“A lot of people have been traumatized, and they need to be counseled and calmed down and so forth,” he said.
Figueredo said he expected a rebound effect, with those returning home needing assistance again due to pipes bursting and flooding.
“When (the power) is out, then all kinds of troubles cascade from that,” Riemann said.
Prepping for any later rounds of weather-related outages, Davis said she has provided oxygen tanks and oxygen concentrators to the shelter on standby. For those that do lose power and are oxygen-dependent, Davis asks that they bring oxygen bottles and concentrators due to the limited number available to hospital staff.