As Boston prepares for Hurricane Sandy, many people are buying last minute supplies: canned goods, water and extra batteries. But for families with chronically ill children, disaster preparedness is more complicated. Many of these children require steady access to medication, clean water, electricity and often need significant help getting from place to place, so having a strategy in place to provide those items after a catastrophe can be crucial.
“The immediate loss of support resources for kids with medical needs is the biggest obstacle these children and their families face after a disaster,” says John Murray, PhD, RN, CPNP, CS, FAAN, director of Nursing Research in Surgical Programs and the Emergency Department at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Families should be prepared for the worst case scenarios. That way, if they do happen, they won’t be caught completely off guard.”
Disaster plans should cover the basics like safe meeting spots and access to stored supplies, but should also address the specific needs of chronically ill children, like having access to electricity that can run a respirator or having plenty of water to clean feeding tubes. To be best prepared, Murray suggests parents call local electricity and water providers, alert them to your family’s specific situation and ask about their emergency support services. This is especially important for electrical devices, as power outages can go on for some time after larger-scale disasters. “If your child needs steady access devices requiring electricity, you need to have a back up generator in case there’s a prolonged blackout,” he says. “Your local electric company or organization that supplies your medical equipment should be able to provide you with one based on your child’s needs.”
If your child needs steady access devices requiring electricity, you need to have a back up generator in case there’s a prolonged blackout.
Murray also suggests having an emergency information form that contains contact information for medical providers, friends and family, which could be incredibly important if parents and children are separated after a disaster. Depending on the child’s needs, detailed information about his condition and care should also be readily available. For instance, instructions on medicine dosage or techniques for managing a breathing tube may be particularly useful if the parent and child are separated after disaster strikes.
“Try to make the instructions succinct, because you don’t know under what situation they’ll be needed,” he says. “It’s possible the person reading them won’t be used to this type of situation or have access to everything you normally would. The notes in your disaster kit should take account of that.”
(Click for a copy of the American Academy of Pediatrics Emergency Information for Children with Special Needs Form, or create your own based on your child’s requirements.)
It’s also important to remember that major disasters can cause young children significant stress. To help alleviate some of their worry, you might consider involving your children in the creation of your family’s disaster preparedness. Engaging them in activates like trips to the grocery store to buy emergency supplies, or showing them how you contacted power companies to alert them to your family’s particular medical situation, can be empowering and help them feel safer. (Read our expert’s tips on lessening anxiety in children worried about natural disasters.)
“Knowing there is a disaster preparedness plan in place is going to help relive a lot of stress for kids,” Murray says. “Having them be involved with the preparation just drives home the point that your family is ready should something happen.”
From April 10 to 18, Children’s Hospital Boston sent a group of 26 clinicians to a field hospital in Haiti. Here, those who staffed the ICU reflect on their experience.
Elizabeth Robertshaw, RN, BSN, CCRN, 7 south MSICU
Where to begin? How do you write on paper a whole country’s suffering? How do you show their faith, courage, and thankfulness through words? It has been so difficult to express all the emotions I have experienced in the past few weeks. Highs and lows. …
Nelson Aquino, a nurse anesthetist from Children’s, is in Haiti with a group of Children’s clinicians. He’s been sending us updates and photos almost daily. Here’s his most recent email:
As we almost reach our first week here in Haiti, I wanted to share that Port au Prince is slowly making some improvement. Each day seems like the people here are trying their best to move on and go on with living. Despite the devastation and tragedy, we have seen the Haitian people looking for work, selling food on the street, cleaning what’s left of their homes, dressing up for Sunday’s best, attending services and children smiling and playing.
The city is full of dust, has poor air quality, remains in shambles and is piled with trash. The people are eating, sleeping and living in these conditions. Crowds gather daily to look for work, see the envoy of volunteers and fill roads with traffic. It amazes me that it took a major disaster for us to finally get over here and help this very poor country. I hope we continue to realize that we need to support Haiti and countries like Haiti. I am amazed how the less fortunate are so happy despite having nothing.
One of the patients I anesthetized today woke up screaming in joy that we did not amputate her legs. She proceeded to place her hand on my head and said a prayer for me. The interpreter said it was some really heavy stuff she was saying. For me, I feel so blessed to be able give all I can as RN, CRNA and human being. …
Children’s-affiliated pediatrician Lester Hartman, MD, who runs a clinic in Haiti’s Central Plateau, made his way to the country within days of the earthquake to offer much-needed medical care. He returned home at yesterday and emailed us about the widespread destruction–and the accompanying resiliency of the Haitian people–that he witnessed firsthand.
Hartman sponsors three students in Haiti, all of whom were in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck. They were lucky to survive the quake, and returned to the capital city with Dr. Hartman to help with relief efforts.
My daughter Sarah and I are back- got home about midnight last night. Sarah was a huge help in all ways, but being close to fluent in Spanish ,while we spent much time trying to cross the border, was a huge help. Also a huge help was the Dominican pharmaceutical distributor who gave of thousands of dollars of meds, the civil defense team from the DR that crossed the border to help, and the director of HOPEH, Marline Olivier, a small woman with an amazing spirit who got the trucks, food and led us down the mountain (I nominated her for CNN Hero-she is sure mine).
My focus is the people, not the destruction- there will be more of the physical devastation than you can imagine you can imagine. Let’s focus on the people. The three students our family sponsor saw death firsthand in Port-au-Prince. When I asked them to return to Port-au-Prince to help, they responded yes with no hesitation.
In the photo, the first person, from left to right, is Richardson, a high school student we sponsor, who dreams of a farm and a house. He calls my wife “Mom”. …