Weather related disasters have brought attention to challenges and deficiencies in the ability of local communities to support its residents before, during and after events, especially for those with disabilities. Many communities have the resources but don’t anticipate the difficulties people have finding and accessing those resources. Large scale loss of power coupled with closed businesses can provide overwhelming challenges. While many children and adults may be medically stable they may not be able to plug in their equipment or charge their batteries and backup generators cannot be refueled as few gas stations remain open. Transporting patients requires gas and the ability to maneuver around fallen trees and debris. Running out of medications or supplies can be devastating as homecare companies, pharmacies, groceries and most hardware stores may be closed. Phones may not be working in many areas so families and their caregivers may have difficulty communicating. A committee of healthcare professionals, families, and community representatives should work together to identify anticipated needs and develop a comprehensive disaster response structure.
Communities need to be prepared:
- Certain basic services need to be prioritized and restored, including pharmacies, homecare companies, grocery and hardware stores, at least one of each for a given neighborhood.
- At least one gas station in each neighborhood with backup power would significantly reduce long lines. It may even be necessary to deliver gasoline, natural gas or propane to support the healthcare needs of some families.
- Generators should be available for households with patients dependent on healthcare equipment as well as for vital businesses.
- Patients who are dependent on equipment and are without power or their home is badly damaged may also need a local community building to go to and transportation to get there where they can access electricity.
- Medical supplies and medications need to be conveniently available. Having a full service pharmacy with backup power in each neighborhood would be a good start and having the homecare companies work out a sharing system where they each take a neighborhood would also be a more efficient remedy.
- Backup caregivers including aides, nurses and respiratory therapists would need to be available to support families.
- Communication options need to be looked into as land lines and cell phones may not work.