Hurricane readiness key for those with medical concerns

Hurricane season means extra planning and preparation for everyone, but especially for people with chronic health problems or disabilities and their families.
“You have to be prepared for a hurricane, and you have to have a plan. Having a plan reduces stress and prevents forgetting any critical items. You want to have that plan and be committed to preparation,” said Vicki Tarnow, RN, Trauma Program coordinator for The Medical Center of Southeast Texas. “When we have an emergency, we tend to have heightened anxiety and we tend to forget.”
During the days after Hurricane Ike hit the Southeast Texas coast in September 2008, “a lot of people had their eyes opened. A lot of patients were running out of medications. They weren’t prepared,” Tarnow recalled.
When it comes to chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and hypertension, the dependency on medicines, treatments and assistance could present major problems if the needed supplies, medicines or information are left behind.
Christus Southeast Texas Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Huff emphasized preparation.
“The biggest thing is the planning ahead of time,” she said. “Definitely have a plan. What are you going to do? Can you stay at home? If you need a nebulizer for breathing treatments, and the electricity is out, you can’t take the treatment. Do you have enough medicine to last you at least two weeks, if not more? All of those things need to be in consideration when you are making your plan.”
The Atlantic hurricane season runs through Nov. 30, and for 2017, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a 70 percent likelihood of 11 to 17 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which five to nine could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including two to four major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher). An average season produces 12 named storms of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.
With hurricane season now underway, Greg Fountain, Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management coordinator, worries that time has passed and memories of the devastation from past hurricanes have been dimmed or been forgotten altogether.
“We have become a complacent society. It’s now been 12 years since Rita and nine since Ike,” he said.
It’s too late to create the plan when the storm is already building in the Gulf.
“If your house was on fire, you wouldn’t wait for the firefighter to arrive and tell you to leave your house,” Fountain said. “You would evacuate. Why would you wait until the storm was upon us to get yourself ready?”
Federal and local emergency officials recommend everyone prepare a disaster supply kit, make a plan and stay informed.
However, with special health concerns, the experts recommend a longer list of items to include in the plan. Check out these online resources for extensive checklists and guidance: www.ready.gov/individuals-access-functional-needs and www.redcross.org.
In addition, follow these tips to make a medical plan including medications and medical supplies:
• Make printed copies and maintain electronic versions, including a portable thumb drive containing:
• A list of phone numbers for your doctors, pharmacy, service providers and medical facilities.
• Medical prescriptions. Ask your local pharmacy or doctor to provide a list of your prescription medicines and medically prescribed devices.
• Doctors’ orders for durable medical equipment, consumable medical supplies and assistive devices that you use. Include the style and serial numbers of the support devices you use and where you purchased them.
• Medical insurance cards, Medicare or Medicaid card, a list of your allergies, and your health history. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services online tool helps people locate and access their electronic health records from a variety of sources: http://healthit.gov/bluebutton
• A copy of your advance healthcare directives.
• If you own a medical alert tag or bracelet, wear it. Keep medical alert tags or bracelets or written descriptions of your disability and support needs in case you are unable to describe the situation in an emergency.
• Stock extra over-the-counter and prescription medicine, oxygen, insulin, catheters, feeding tubes, cannulas, tubing, trach tubes, wipes, pads, undergarments, ostomy supplies, leg bags, adhesive and other medical supplies you use.
• If you have allergies or chemical or environmental sensitivities, be sure to include cleaning, filtering and personal items that you may be able to use to decrease the impact of irritants as much as possible.
• If you work with a medical provider or organization to receive life sustaining medical treatment such as dialysis, oxygen or cancer treatment, work with the provider in advance of an emergency to identify alternative locations where you could continue to receive treatment if you are unable to go to your regular medical provider.
• If you receive in-home assistance or personal assistance services and Meals on Wheels, work with your provider agency in advance of an emergency and develop a backup plan for continued care.
• Ask how you can continue to receive services from providers such as disability, mental and behavioral health and social service providers, or medical and life alert services.
• If you are hearing impaired, pack extra hearing aid batteries and pen and paper to communicate if needed. Make sure your weather radio has text display and flashing alerts.
• If you are on a specialized diet, such as a low-sodium or diabetic diet, have non-perishable foods on hand that you can eat.
• If evacuation is necessary, determine ahead of time who will assist you. If you have no way to evacuate with the assistance of family or friends, Texas offers residents with disabilities the option to register through the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry (STEAR). This free registry helps local emergency planners and responders with additional information on the needs of their communities. Register today online at www.dps.texas.gov/dem/stear/public.htm or by calling 2-1-1.

– Karen Stubblefield

Photo by Karen Stubblefield - Greg Fountain, Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management coordinator, speaks about hurricane preparedness at the Golden Triangle Business Roundtable meeting Tuesday, June 20.

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