Natural disasters can leave long-lasting effects on health; Know the risks ahead of time
In the event of a natural disaster, hospitals are typically prepared for the potential of a power outage with backup generators. However, NYU Langone Medical Center, which treats as many as 800 patients at a time, had a devastating experience during Hurricane Sandy – the backup generators failed. As a result, the facility had no power for lights, respirators, machines and elevators. And although the hospital had discharged hundreds of patients ahead of time, it still had patients – both adult and children – in regular and critical care. This situation truly tested the hospital staff’s ability to focus, plan quickly and act even more quickly. Here is one nurse’s story about the staff’s experience. We applaud these people for their heroism.
Outside of a trained healthcare facility, residents of New York and New Jersey were also exposed to many health risks caused by the hurricane. NPR reported warnings by public health officials that people in areas devastated by a storm like Sandy face many risks during the storm and in the aftermath. Officials urge citizens to do their best to protect themselves from health threats in the water, air and even their refrigerators.
In addition to contaminated water, air is another big concern. One of the most common killers after a big disaster is carbon monoxide poisoning among people misusing generators. People should avoid downed wires, which can cause electrocution.
Another common problem resides in peoples’ refrigerators – the risk of food poisoning. This can occur even in during short-term power outages. Tom Frieden, who heads the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says, “Food in the fridge stays cold for only about four to six hours without power. Food in the freezer holds for maybe 24 to 48 hours. After that, don’t risk it. Bottom line is: If in doubt, throw it out.”
“Some of the things that people can do to stop mold from spreading and growing in homes is to take out items that have soaked up water and can’t be cleaned or dried," says Tina Tan, the state epidemiologist for the New Jersey Department of Health. "Try to fix water leaks, and use fans and dehumidifiers. Open the doors and windows to remove moisture just in general."
Lost power and flooding also poses a significant risk to people receiving ongoing medical treatment that requires access to electricity or water, such as dialysis. The good news is that companies, like NxStage, which develops portable hemodialysis systems, have created preparedness plans and support in times of a crisis, such as a natural disaster. With a trained and trusted caretaker, and a generator, patients will weather the storm.
Did your company do something unique to help its patients or employees? What might you do differently if / when there is a next time? We would love to hear your story.
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