IU Health team makes special deliveries in midst of storm

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02/21/2022

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Whether it’s a snowstorm shutting down formula deliveries around the state or a national recall affecting supply, members of the Enteral Nutrition team jump in to help.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Just like the U.S. Postal Service, “neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night” can keep the IU Health Enteral Nutrition team from their appointed rounds.

When a winter storm dumped nearly a foot of snow on some areas of Indiana earlier this month, this team sprang into action to ensure families had what they needed.

This despite a crippling collapse of the infrastructure designed to deliver the nutritional supplies to families all over the state due to unsafe road conditions.

The team supports 5,100 patients (80% pediatric) statewide, many of whom require nutrition via feeding tubes.

As Gail Shepard, statewide director for Enteral Nutrition, part of the IU Health Home Care team, tells it, a crisis like this brings out the best in her team.

“The thing I’m most proud of is, I feel like it’s innate in their character that when there’s some kind of crisis or trial, they just jump in headfirst,” Shepard said. “It’s always about focusing on the patient and what the patient needs.”

That’s what Jane Nitsch was focused on when she found out there was a family in Carmel who was out of the formula their child depended on to survive. UPS typically delivers a 28-day supply to IU Health Home Care patients around the state, but the shipping company – like trucking companies elsewhere – was grounded during the Feb. 3 storm.

Nitsch, clinical dietitian physician liaison, reached out to a manufacturer’s rep to secure samples of a specialized formula the child needed, arranging to meet the representative at the intersection of two highways between Fishers (where she lives) and Carmel (where the family lives).

Nitsch then drove the samples to the family’s home to get them through the weekend until a full delivery could be made.

Even if parents could get to the grocery, they won’t find some of the specialized formulas on the shelf, Nitsch explained.

“If they are on these specialty formulas, this might be the only thing they can tolerate due to medical conditions,” she said. “They can’t just go to the store and buy something else.”

The mother was understandably relieved, as were other parents who received special deliveries during the storm.

“Going into the weekend and not having anything for your child is scary,” Nitsch said.

The team has a network of couriers who can deliver in emergencies, but drivers were few and far between amid the storm.

“We had only a few couriers running the whole state, and they were so behind that it could be 11 at night before they could get there and maybe a child hasn’t eaten all day,” she said.

Nitsch, whose primary role is to travel the state and market the enteral nutrition department’s services, said this was a time to take off her marketing hat and help however she could.

“These patients have to eat, and they depend on us. We were trying to figure out every possible scenario and ways to help,” she said. “I was able to help one patient while the rest of the team could figure out other needs.”

That includes Lauren Jones, clinical dietitian team lead, who used her personal credit card to pay for formula for two patients and arranged for them to pick them up at local retail stores.

Ken Stiles, inventory control specialist for the Home Care Distribution team, made a personal delivery on his way home from work in the midst of the storm. Tim Kelly and Brandon Fancher helped out as well, making stops in Bloomington, Kokomo and Valparaiso.

As Nitsch said, “Everyone pitched in.”

The same can be said today as the team sorts through a formula recall from Abbott Laboratories.

“We have to triage, we have to figure out who got the affected product and what substitutes are available,” Shepard said.

Again, it’s an all-hands-on-deck mentality – something her team is really good at.

“It doesn’t matter what the crisis is. This is just a natural part of their being, which is amazing.”