Itís no secret that a large
percentage of deaths in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans were our sick
and our elderly. Even institutions built to safeguard our elderly
loved ones were ill-equipped to handle a disaster of this magnitude.
In his September 19, 2005
report, New York Times reporter David Rohde exposes Katrinaís impact
on nursing homes and hospitals. About 60% of nursing homes failed to
evacuate successfully before the storm hit. Many nursing home
operators feared their frailest residents would die on the buses
leaving town. So far, more than 150 of the deaths in New Orleans
were patients in hospitals and nursing homes.
This report should be a wake-up
call to all families with elderly loved ones. What would happen in
the event of a major earthquake? Or even in other areas of the US
where unanticipated disasters such as tornados, floods or fires
could occur. The damage could be even more extensive due to the
element of surprise.
No one likes to plan for the
worst. However, objectively considering the possibility of a
disaster and developing a contingency plan is exactly whatís needed
to offset the tremendous impact such an event could have on our
elderly loved ones and on us. Even if your loved one resides in an
assisted-living facility, there is no guarantee the employees would
elevate your loved oneís interest ahead of their own familyís
safety. Indeed, you may be called upon to transport and care for
your loved one until the situation stabilizes.
Are you prepared to care for
your loved one? Do you have a weekís supply of their daily
medications? How will you transport your loved one?
Here is a brief checklist of
tasks that should be completed now. Completion of these tasks will
help prepare you to effectively and efficiently handle any
Provide the facility with
in-state and out-of-state emergency contact information.
Find out if the facility has
a website where they will post information in case of a major
Keep a current copy of your
loved oneís medical requirements with you. Arrange with the
doctors, pharmacy and/or facility to have at least a seven day
supply of each of their medications.
Prepare a bag that you can
carry with you to the facility if the roads are out. It should
contain a portion of each of the following items.
Stock disposable rubber
gloves, antibacterial gels, adult diapers, wipes, skin creams
and a supply of plastic bags to dispose of any waste. Elders
with special medical needs require special hygiene products.
You should have a change of
clothes for your elder family member. Many elders in facilities
always wear a nightgown or very light clothing. If you need to
bring them home, they will need shoes, socks, sweaters, jackets,
For dementia or Alzheimerís
patients, make sure your loved one always wears their medic
alert bracelet. It contains the appropriate contact and medical
information. You may also want to consider putting an emergency
pack in their room with all of the pertinent information about
their care in writing
Meet with other family members
and discuss the following questions.
Which family member is
closest to the facility should transportation become necessary?
Who is responsible for
moving the loved one? Also, establish a backup person.
If the loved one canít be
moved, who can stay in the facility with them?
The bottom line is that we are
the primary caregivers to our loved ones during an emergency, not
the facilities they live in. Itís in our loved oneís best interest
to take responsibility for their care in the event of a disaster
rather than for one hospital administrator to care for all of the
patients in their charge.
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