New York City home care agencies put their emergency preparedness plans into action earlier this month during two July power outages that left tens of thousands of New Yorkers in the dark on two consecutive weekends: on July 14 and July 21.
Nurses, home health aides and other home care personnel play a vital role for patients during emergencies like these — just as they provide critical supports to vulnerable populations at home each day. This includes New Yorkers who are among the 2.5 million individuals nationally relying on home medical equipment, like in-home respiratory ventilators, that require reliable power to function.
Home care providers have plans in place to assist these and other patients living at home who are vulnerable to heat-related illness or environmental conditions during a disaster, especially a situation like the recent power outages coinciding with a wave of near-record high temperatures that gripped the metropolitan region.
State and federal regulations require home care providers to develop and maintain an “all-hazards” approach to emergency preparedness and have plans in place for each patient. This means that home care agencies must develop protocols durable enough for any kind of disaster that could arise, addressing procedures for: communicating with staff and patients, evacuation assistance, and triage of patients whose care cannot be interrupted, known as Priority Level I patients.
Power Outage and Heat Wave Response
My organization, the Home Care Association of New York (HCA), conducted a brief survey to find out how providers and their patients coped with the crisis. Most home care providers in the affected areas reported that they utilized a communications procedure to reach Priority Level I and/or technology-dependent patients, confirming all had power. One agency reported over 20 technology-dependent patients in the affected region and several other agencies each reported rosters serving in the range of 20 to 172 Priority Level I patients who lived in the affected region.
One Agency’s Experience: A Case Example
The operations of Brooklyn-based Americare — which serves all five boroughs of New York City, Westchester and Long Island — were particularly affected. Americare reported that 743 of its patients lost power, requiring a range of actions under the agency’s emergency preparedness plan, especially for ten of its patients in the affected region who are technology-dependent, two of whom were advised to relocate and did so.
Several other of the agency’s patients relocated as well. All Priority Level I patients were provided aide services and contact from an RN during the outages, with additional visits as deemed necessary. Patients requiring oxygen all had portable equipment, with extra delivery requested.
Household preparedness and Resources
In addition to these organization-level procedures, home care emergency preparedness is also a vital function at the site of care, in the patient’s home, as nurses and other teams assist patients well before disaster strikes by developing a household communications plan, arranging for federal cooling assistance, consulting with families on a household home emergency preparedness kit, conducting food safety assessments following loss of refrigeration, and a host of other preparatory functions.
HCA is a collaborating partner to the state Department of Health and regional coalitions for emergency preparedness across New York State. Along with our partners, HCA has has prepared a toolkit of further information on household preparedness here.
To learn more about home care’s emergency preparedness efforts, see our publication on “Home Care Provides Lifeline for Patients in Hurricane Sandy’s Wake” and related news coverage about home care’s role during Hurricane Sandy.