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: July 14 and July 21.
Nurses, 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 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 one like the recent outage that not only knocked out power to vast swathes of New York City but did so amid a wave of near-record high temperatures.
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 Response
Most providers in areas of the power outages this month reported to HCA that they utilized a communications procedure to reach all Priority Level I and/or technology-dependent patients confirming all had power, with one agency reporting over 20 technology-dependent patients in the affected region and several other agencies reporting as many as 20 to 172 Priority Level I patients in the affected region on their rosters. Because of the heat, one agency sent broadcast messages to all home health aides instructing them to follow heat-related emergency procedures with notifications about cooling centers.
One Agency’s Experience
The operations of Brooklyn-based Americare – which serves all five boroughs, Long Island and Westchester – were particularly affected.
Americare reported that 743 of its patients lost power, requiring a range of actions under Americare’s emergency preparedness plan, especially for 10 of Americare’s patients in the affected region who are technology-dependent, two of whom were advised to relocate and did so. Several other 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.
In addition to these organization-level procedures, 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 that you can share with your constituents 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.