Hurricane Sandy Affects Hospice Caregivers: Preparing for Emergencies
By Terre Mirsch
As I sat in my Philadelphia home on Monday evening, I awaited total darkness as loss of power loomed from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. The lights were flickering, the winds were howling, and the waters were rising in my poorly graded backyard, but I was grateful that I was safe and that we had the tools needed to deal with loss of electricity, water, and other utilities. We had a few days warning for this weather-related emergency, so there was plenty of time to make multiple trips to the supermarket and to dig through the closet to find the flashlights and radio that we purchased last year—just before Hurricane Irene.
Weather events like this one remind me of how important it is that, as caregivers, we are in a constant state of emergency preparedness. Hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, earthquakes, and other natural disasters occur periodically throughout our nation. In the midst of caregiving, it may be hard to find the time to prepare when emergencies or changes are occurring. Power outages may happen suddenly, leaving us vulnerable, afraid, and without the tools and equipment we need to provide adequate care. And during a crisis such as this one, we may not be able to think clearly enough to take measures that will ensure our safety, and the safety of our loved ones. When roads are closed or a state of emergency is declared, others might not be able to reach us to provide needed assistance. And the unpredictable can occur quickly.
Emergency planning helps to ensure that you will have the things you need to get through a disaster. The more prepared you are, the safer and more comfortable you will be.
Have an Emergency Preparedness Plan
The following guidelines will help to ensure that the comfort, safety, and medical needs of you and your loved one will be met during an emergency:
- Keep emergency numbers by each phone including: fire, police, ambulance or other emergency medical service (EMS), utility company (if you use oxygen or other electrically powered medical equipment, notify your utility company so that you can get on their priority electrical user list), physician and other healthcare providers, Local Red Cross, Local Emergency Management Office, pharmacy, and neighbors or relatives.
- Consider a personal emergency response system so that you can signal for help if you can’t get to the phone.
- Know which radio or TV stations will have emergency broadcast announcements and set a TV or radio to that station. Have a battery-powered radio available in the event of power failure. Be sure to have extra batteries.
- Keep copies of important papers, including your and your loved one’s medical information, medication list, allergies and sensitivities, copies of health insurance cards, and your advance directive or living will in a labeled, resealable plastic bag or other waterproof container.
- Consider a medical bracelet in order to alert rescue crews to any medical condition you and your loved one may have. You may also want to carry a medical ID card and post medical instructions on your refrigerator or another easy-to-see location.
- If your loved one uses oxygen, be sure to have back up tanks available and that you know how to use them.
Have the following emergency supplies on hand:
- Seven-day supply of essential medications and medical supplies
- Water (one gallon per person per day)
- Food that won’t spoil and doesn’t require cooking, and a manual can opener
- Charged cell phone
- Standard telephone (that does not need to be plugged into an electric outlet) by your bed and in each room, if possible
- Flashlights or battery-powered lamps, and extra batteries; do not use candles, as they are a fire hazard
- Assorted sizes of resealable plastic bags for storing food or waste
- Small battery-operated radio and extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Enough heating fuel as regular fuel sources may be cut off
Be prepared to evacuate when recommended by authorities:
- Plan to stay with relatives or friends in another region if possible.
- Or know where a shelter is located that can meet your special needs. Arrange for assistance if you are unable to evacuate by yourself.
- Pack a bag of essentials, including a blanket. Label medical equipment, supplies, and medications that you will need to bring. Pack important papers, including your and your loved ones’ medical information, medication list, allergies and sensitivities, health insurance cards, and advance directive or living will in labeled, resealable, plastic bags or other waterproof container.
- In the event of home emergency, a bed-bound patient can be relocated to safety by placing the patient on a sturdy blanket and dragging it out of the house.
- If you evacuate, turn off electricity, gas, and water. Lock windows and doors.
- Notify family, friends, and your home care or hospice provider that you are leaving and of your new location.
In the event of a natural disaster or federal emergency, follow the directive provided by the Emergency Broadcast System or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Your local radio and television stations will broadcast specific direction for personal and medical safety.
Those that have home care or hospice services receive the benefits of guidance and support during these times. More than 1,000 Holy Redeemer HomeCare and Holy Redeemer Hospice caregivers worked tirelessly this weekend to ensure that the patients and families we serve in Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey were prepared. Despite warnings and preparations, we can never be truly ready for the aftermath of these natural disasters. We pray for the continued safety and well being of our staff, our patients and their families, our first responders, and our communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Take time today for prepare for weather and other emergencies that may occur in your region. Doing so will provide you and your loved one with the peace of mind that you need and deserve.