Each year, hurricane season brings with it dangerous and extreme weather conditions — lashing winds, torrential downpours, power outages and floods — posing a threat to everyone in the communities affected. The risks become greater when it comes to patients who are aging and receiving care in the home.

For home care patients and those aging in place with the support of caregivers, maintaining safety and well-being becomes difficult, and threatened, during hurricane events. They often find themselves in circumstances that make them especially vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters including social isolation, disability and a greater reliance on their providers and care teams for care services they need.

Whether it’s the Atlantic hurricane season spanning from June to November, or East Coast snowstorm season from December to March, it is crucial that home care patients are prepared for potential impact. To ensure patients receiving care in the home are equipped to respond to potential emergencies during hurricane season, there are a few actions that providers, care teams and patients can take.

Actions for the patient, their loved ones or caregivers:

  1. Have an emergency supply kit on hand. Kits should include all the basic supplies, such as water, non-perishable food, batteries, and battery-operated lights and a first aid kit. A portable, pre-charged cell phone charger is also recommended to stay reachable and access important information despite power outages. For home care patients, these kits should also include supplies specific to their needs, such as medical supplies, prescription medications, eyeglasses, hearing aid batteries or a change of clothes.
  2. Make an emergency plan with your family, loved ones or caretakers. If a disaster strikes, everyone that cares for a patient should know their role. Making sure cell phones stay charged and that everyone has contact information handy will help keep everyone connected. Keeping personal identification cards with you is also helpful, including vaccination records, social security cards, insurance information and Medicare identification. Having these on hand will help caregivers handle situations on behalf of patients that might arise during an emergency.
  3. Be informed about the different types of emergencies that could occur and appropriate responses. Know where to look for local news updates and warnings and utilize cell phones to stay up to date. Knowing how to access certain resources is especially important for disabled home care patients and their caregivers, since they can’t always react to or prepare for incoming disasters in the same way as more able-bodied individuals. A few resources that can assist in these instances include the Disability and Disaster Hotline (800) 626-4959 from the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, which also provides multilingual support to those that request it through [email protected].

Actions for healthcare providers and care teams:

  1. Lean on technology-enabled services. Healthcare programs that utilize both care professionals and technology-enabled services will be able to better care for patients during extreme weather events. With capabilities like remote patient monitoring, care coordinators can keep an eye on patients, monitor their vitals, and be alerted of any concerning changes to ensure the patient is taken care of and equally as important, feels taken care of.
  2. Be proactive in anticipating social determinant of health (SDoH) factors. Social determinants of health are a huge part of patient health outcomes, especially for those receiving care in the home. Care teams should be aware of potential determinants and have plans in place to address them in case of emergencies. For example, in the case of a multi-day blizzard, if a patient’s home is heated by a wood stove, it’s important to make sure they have enough wood to keep warm for days at a time.
  3. Communicate and stay connected. Giving patients peace of mind that they are being monitored and that someone is there for them during frightening emergencies is hugely valuable to the overall well-being of the patient. With social isolation being a concern amongst patients aging in the home, it’s important that care teams engage with patients on a regular basis to ensure they feel safe and have everything they need.

Although it is halfway over, the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season shows no signs of slowing, as experts like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration anticipate relentless storms in the months ahead. As natural disasters become more frequent and extreme, and as the population of older adults aging in the home continues to grow in size and complexity, taking steps to ensure home care patients are kept safe and their health is maintained during a potential environmental emergency should be a primary part of patient care plans and programs now and moving forward.

David Hunt is the founder and president at Cosán Group, an industry-leading healthcare organization creating new pathways to modern aging with technology-driven preventative care services that offer concierge home care for older adults by supporting preventative care management programs including chronic care management, behavioral health integration, and remote patient monitoring.