Roughly 2 million people use home oxygen machines, mostly "concentrators" that make oxygen on the spot as long as electricity flows. Just a few years ago, oxygen-gas tanks that don't require home electricity were the norm.And the situation can be made worse by HIPAA health care privacy rules:
At least another 10,000 people breathe with home ventilators, and thousands more have implanted heart pumps called VADs, or ventricular assist devices.
Millions more use other at-home equipment: dialysis machines, nebulizers, IV and nutrition pumps, CPAP breathing masks. But power failures bring the most immediate risk for users of ventilators, heart pumps and oxygen.
Ventilators and heart pumps have internal batteries that last 45 minutes to a few hours, time to put on longer-lasting batteries or get to help. Some portable oxygen concentrators can run on batteries for three or four hours or be plugged into a car adapter, but patients typically depend on oxygen suppliers to deliver old-fashioned tanks of the gas for emergency use.
Federal patient-privacy rules limit sharing, cautioned Bill Desmarais, a co-owner of Home Care Specialists Inc. in Haverhill, Mass., which had about 800 oxygen-dependent customers using backup tanks when last month's Northeast ice storm cut power.Patients with such devices would be well-advised to communicate with their local emergency medical services and the power companies to review actions to be taken in the event of power outages.