Long lines at gas pumps not limited to coastal areas

Staff alerts managers to beginning of crisis

Hospice staff members in areas directly affected by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike knew to prepare for gasoline shortages or the inability to access gasoline due to power outages, but when you are 800 miles away from the hurricane's landfall, your emergency plans typically don't plan for gasoline shortages.

Hospice managers in several Southeastern states scrambled to help staff members find and conserve gasoline when pipelines from Texas refineries were shut down as a result of Hurricane Ike. A random phone call from a nurse who reported that she kept passing gasoline stations with no gas and long lines at stations with gas alerted managers at Visiting Nurse Health System (VNHS) in Atlanta that a problem existed before media began reporting the problem, says Mary Zagajeski, RN, MS, COS-C, vice president of home health operations for the agency.

The first step taken by VNHS was to review coverage areas carefully to make sure that clinicians were seeing patients near where they lived and not making trips outside their coverage area. "We typically schedule clinicians so that they drive the least distance possible, but sometimes when we need extra coverage in an area, we'll call nurses that are willing to drive to another area, even if it's not close," she says. "Now we look in the next closest area to find extra coverage," she adds.

VNHS human resource staff members spent their days searching media web sites that listed gasoline availability in different areas of Atlanta, as well as calling corporate headquarters of gasoline distributors to identify areas most likely to receive deliveries. "We sent emails to each clinician's laptop with updated information, and we also left voicemail messages if the information was urgent," she says. In addition to reminding employees to conserve gasoline, Zagajeski and her managers directed employees not to let their tanks get less than half full. "We also learned from gasoline stations that early morning was the most likely time to find gas, since stations that did receive deliveries got them around midnight," she adds.

Along with shortages, gasoline prices in Atlanta fluctuated week to week, with some prices reaching $4.50 or more per gallon. To make sure that employees are reimbursed fairly, VNHS has been reimbursing with a floating rate based on information from web sites that calculate the average cost of gas in the city rather than a set rate that is not adjusted for price changes, says Zagajeski. "The rate changes with each pay period every two weeks so that reimbursement is fair to employees," she says.

The rising price of gasoline made VNHS employees aware of conservation, but the latest crisis has caused everyone to look more closely at ways to save gas, says Zagajeski. "We have always used technology to enable our employees to access schedules and patient information from their homes so they don't have to go into an office," she says. Laptops with wireless cards mean that all documentation and notes from the day can be uploaded from any location and careful scheduling prevents unnecessary driving. She adds, "Now, more employees use our system's mapping tool to find the most efficient sequence and route to travel between patients' homes."