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Wednesday, 09 November 2016 00:00

Protecting Home Care Professionals Away From Home During a Disaster

Written by  CARLITA D. VASSER

Vasser1Aug. 9, 2014, will forever remain a day that changed the St. Louis metropolitan region. The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., unlocked the boiling temperatures of St. Louis residents. From protesting, tear gas, police blockades, to riots, traveling in the community was challenging. Many day-to-day errands came to a halt. For some, getting to a doctor's appointment or obtaining medication from the pharmacy was hindered. Some residents could not receive their vital personal care services such as meal preparation or medication assistance due to the violence. Residents were told to stay in their homes and traveling into the area was limited. Home care professionals that were working were also stranded in the homes of their clients for hours in a client's home or in their cars.

Home care professionals are individuals who provide activities of daily living, light housekeeping, meal preparation, medication assistance, nursing visits, and therapy. Disabled adults and seniors are now remaining in their own home versus a nursing home more than ever due to the use of home care professionals. This vulnerable population relies on the daily assistance of these professionals. The client may not have family in the home, nearby that can assist or will assist during a disaster or post disaster.

Most think of a disaster is a calamitous event that brings about great damage, loss, and destruction and devastation to life and property. It completely disrupts the normal day-to-day life. Business continuity professionals are trained to prepare for natural disasters, technological disasters, or even terrorism and civil unrest. Proactive disaster preparedness and training is often lacking for many other professions, like home care.

Training
Home care professionals are trained to provide personal care services for their clients that have unmet needs from their family. There is limited or no formal training on how to personally prepare for a disaster while in the field. Limited training is provided on how to be self-sufficient in the event a disaster occurs while they are at work in a client's home. Most are provided limited training on how to educate their clients for a disaster. Federal regulations require disaster preparedness for home health care agencies but there are no regulations for personal care agencies.

Military personnel and police are trained to call for backup when needed. They would not enter a dangerous environment without assistance. Military personnel also follow a chain of command that advises the course of action they will follow. The disaster response team has an incident commander that helps outline the strategic plan of providing safety to the community and its team.

It is often assumed that aides, social workers, therapists, nurses, and those in similar professions will not be sent into dangerous work environments (or be required to work in conditions during a hostile disruption or disasters) but that is not always the case. What chain of command would occur in the field as a lone employee? Agencies need to consider how to empower and protect their employees that are sent into potentially dangerous work environments.

Due Diligence
Management of home care agencies often view disaster preparedness as an afterthought because organizations view disaster preparedness from different perspectives. Regardless of how one views disaster preparedness, it is in management's best interest to be proactive in having the needed and sometimes uncomfortable conversations about the dangers of home care. Many agencies have minimal polices or plans for disaster preparedness. There is potential that an employee in the field may be stranded for hours or days in an environment due to a disaster.

Everyday Realities
There are many everyday realities of within the home care environment. Clients are often home-based and most agencies have minimal office staff. Clients are often on a fixed income and have limited resources to host guests for several days.

Employees are trained to avoid carrying personal items with them to a patient's home. They often lack credit cards, money, or even their own medication when they arrive to provide care for a patient. They could be without several needed items needed for sheltering in place.

Personal preparedness is a tricky issue. Mentally, we think we know what we would do in an emergency. But do we have a written plan to follow? It is imperative to develop a disaster plan for field employees and the agency they represent.

There are many benefits for preparing for a disaster. Being prepared can reduce fear, panic, anxiety, and loss that may accompany a disaster. Preparedness is essential at home, in your car, and at work. Remember to have an agency plan in case employees cannot get home during or after a disaster. Identify how communication in the agency will continue and a chain of command. Knowing what to do before, during, and after an emergency is a critical part of being prepared.

Having a plan is not enough. Employees must be given the opportunity to exercise the plan with mock drills completed by all staff members. This may make all the difference when seconds and minutes count.

How to Cope
In order to avoid being severely impacted, individuals should know what to do in the event of a disaster. There are some very basic lifesaving tips that can aid in easing the trauma that occurs in a disaster. A do-it-yourself office kit and car kit can be created with dollar store items. Many people use an old book bag that has a handle or straps for storage. Storing small items in plastic sandwich bags, you can easily locate them when needed.

Conclusion
There is a direct relationship between home care and disaster preparedness. In light of the uncertainty surrounding the roles of home care professionals in disaster planning, there still needs to a conversation about how to continue to provide care in the homes during a disaster of any sorts. The assumption that a home care professional will stay in the home after the shift must take into account other employment and family obligations. With respect to preparedness prior to a disaster, it is critical that home care agencies develop internal plans that are implemented during a disaster.

Vasser CarlitaCarlita Vasser, MA, BSN, RN, CCN, is the director/CEO of At Home Care. Through her expertise in home care, she works to keep disabled and or seniors living at home with independence by aiding in basic need assistance. Vasser helped co-found a branch of the national Medical Reserve Corps local unit named the Gateway St. Louis Medical Reserves Corps. The MRC units are community-based programs under the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) that function to locally organize and utilize volunteers who want to donate their time and expertise to prepare for and respond to emergencies. Vasser is pursuing a doctorate in management at Webster University. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Above photo By Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com