Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy poses problems for patients and doctors

There are about 60 million people in the path of hurricane Sandy and undoubtedly many of these will be organ transplant recipients who must take anti-rejection and other meds daily. For these patients, it is extremely important to plan ahead to make sure their drugs are in supply, safe and dry. 

Doctors Urged to prepare for Patient Surge After Hurricane Sandy, Says Expert

By Robert Lowes
Physicians in the path of Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to make landfall tonight on the New Jersey shore, should open up their office schedules later this week for a surge of patients with chronic illnesses, according to an expert on healthcare emergency preparedness.
"People lose their medicine, or it gets wet," said Linda Landesman, MD, author of Public Health Management of Disasters: The Practice Guide. "They lose power, and there goes the medicine in their refrigerator. They lose their glasses. Dampness exacerbates their asthma. You can't imagine all the possibilities.
"Physician practices might want to consider postponing some of their noncritical appointments so they have the capacity to see the emergency walk-ins."
Although attention has centered on New York City, which has ordered evacuation of low-lying areas, including portions of Manhattan, much of the eastern seaboard is at risk of flooding, power outages, and massive property damage. Nine states already have declared states of emergency.
Hospitals in the Mid-Atlantic states and New England are taking familiar precautions — cancelling elective surgeries; stocking up on food, water, and emergency generator fuel; instructing entire shifts to bring toothbrushes and pajamas for indefinite stays; rescheduling appointments in outpatient facilities; and closing physician offices.
The drill also includes discharging as many patients as safely as possible and evacuating others who are critically ill. The North Shore–Long Island Jewish Health System, for example, transferred dozens of patients dependent on ventilators and other mechanical devices from its flood-prone Staten Island University Hospital and Southside Hospital in Bayshore, New York, to other facilities in its system.
"The good news is we've had almost a week of warning, so people have had time to get prepared," said Dr. Landesman, a former assistant vice president of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. Another plus, she said, is that East Coast hospitals have fresh memories of this drill from when they executed it last fall for Hurricane Irene.
Dr. Landesman, who now teaches at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, said the 1000-mile-wide Hurricane Sandy threatens to strain emergency resources more than smaller storms. When a state or area is beset by a natural disaster, she said, hospitals and public health authorities typically take advantage of mutual-aid agreements with their neighbors, bringing in ambulances and extra medical personnel, for example. However, when their neighbors face the same natural disaster, those resources become unavailable.
"That's why the federal [emergency response] system is so important as a backup," said Dr. Landesman.
Already, the US Department of Health and Human Services has deployed two 50-member medical disaster crews to New Jersey, the department said in a press release today, and another such team is ready to go into action if needed.

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