As much of the nation, and California in particular, observes today’s Great American Shakeout, Providence Health & Services is urging residents to take time now to prepare for a major disaster – and to have a plan to check on elderly neighbors after disaster strikes.
In the past few weeks, we’ve seen destruction on both coasts – the spate of hurricanes in the southeast and the brush fires that have ravaged Northern California communities. A common thread was that many of the dead were older people.
Geriatrician James Michail, M.D., new to the staff at Providence Holy Cross, said the elderly have unique needs and can become especially vulnerable in earthquakes, fires and other disasters.
“The basics – food and water – are important, but needs expand as people age,” Dr. Michail said, noting, for example, the higher risks of dehydration. “A lot of elderly are kind of isolated. It’s important to have a network of neighbors to help in preparation and in an actual disaster.”
Dr. Michail said preparation should include a disaster pack tagged with the owner’s name, a week’s supply of medications, lists of medications and allergies, extra eyeglasses, phone numbers of family members and physicians, battery-operated radios and back-up batteries and flashlights. Those who have prescribed oxygen should ensure tanks are carefully braced. Walkers, canes, sturdy shoes and warm clothing should be readily accessible, he said.
And it’s a good idea, he said, to give a house key to a trusted neighbor.
Bo Erwin, is director of Providence Home Health Services in the South Bay, which provides nurse visits to patients who recently have had surgery, or are in need of intravenous medication, wound care and other acute-care services.
Visiting nurses also provide disaster preparation information to their patients, a program they are expanding. Erwin hopes residents remember their homebound neighbors in disasters.
“We encourage our patients to be prepared, to have a plan,” he said. “In a serious emergency, roads could be blocked or closed and we may not be able to make scheduled visits. We would encourage neighbors to check on these patients to make sure they’re safe and to get help if they are injured.”