Home Care Agency Provides Care to Patients Despite Disaster

Jewish Home Life Dispatches Aides and Escorts as Islands after the Storm

Imagine driving through a city devastated by one of the worst storms on record that has shut down public transit, shut off power to millions and cut off most cell phone service. Then think about climbing 14 flights of stairs in a dark apartment complex, fumbling for a banister to grab on to and not knowing what you’ll find when you reach the top floor.

That is the challenge that hundreds of home healthcare workers have undertaken in New York. Hurricane Sandy which devastated the East Coast two weeks ago left in its wake hundreds of seniors and disabled in need of daily medical attention – and relatives sometimes hundreds if not a thousand miles away.

Older adults are more likely to have a difficult time in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, according to the Gerontological Society of America.

“Right now, most people who are responding to the hurricane are not trained in the needs of older adults,” Lisa M. Brown, PhD, a co-convener of GSA’s Disasters and Older Adults Interest Group and an associate professor at the University of South Florida, told ScienceDaily. “Likewise, very few geriatricians and gerontologists are trained in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.

Brown said that the U.S. does not have continuity in the disaster infrastructure for older adults.

“We don’t have continuity in the disaster infrastructure for older adults. Our efforts tend to be more reactive post-disaster than proactive pre-disaster,” Brown said.

Jewish Home Life Care based in New York worked diligently to meet the challenge and is accomplishing its task through its pre-planning, organization and coordination. The agency which is split between three campuses in Manhattan, Bronx and its Sarah Neuman Center in Westchester, serves 975 clients with two home care programs, a long-term home health care program. three nursing homes, community service programs and housing.

Laura Radensky, Community Relations and Legislative Liaison, for Jewish Home Lifecare spoke with NAHC Report about what it takes to get staff and patients ready for an event of Hurricane Sandy’s magnitude.

Radensksy said that the the staff was alerted on Sunday, Oct. 28, two days before the storm was slated to make landfall. She said that the staff alerted and reminded that they still needed to come in. On Sunday, an email was distributed to staff members that they should make arrangements to sleep over at nursing homes or senior buildings as needed. By Sunday evening, the staffing rosters were in place, she said. Transportation staff would use its 52 vans to help transport staff to their work assignments.

Patients under the care of the centers were categorized by color code to signify the level of care they wold require. Red were patients who had to be called immediately. They were not able to be alone, or had medical equipment that required constant management. Patients coded green where those who needed some level of care, but not constantly, and yellow were those who were most independent.

Those patients receiving in-home care or who were in day centers were called by Jewish Home Life staff every day during the disaster. If they were unable to reach them, they would inform the patient’s emergency contact.

Radensksy talked about one of her older patient, a 91-year-old woman whose building had been evacuated. The agency had asked the police to check on her, but because of the conditions in the city, they could not reach her. The agency checked with local shelters to see if she’d gone or been taken there, without success. Eventually, they found her still at home but without power, having rejected the evacuation order. Radensky said the Jewish Home Life agency delivered food and flashlights to her, and were taking her an extra blanket.

“The drivers and escorts are going to the 14th floor in the dark That’s not easy,” she said.

Radensksy said that agency administrations, home health aides and escorts – some of whom have skills in languages such as Mandarin or Cantonese – for their Chinese populations – have been visiting patients without power, to check on them and making certain they have what they need.

Some patients need more support than others, she said. “We have also seen some with mental health issues needed more support especially the day after, having a hard time functioning so we went to check on them,” Radensky said.

All in all, she said she has been impressed with how her staff has pulled together to ensure patients are taken care of.

From the NAHC Report Article