Healthcare Ready | Managing Health in the Wake of Disaster

Managing Health in The Wake of Disaster

September 3, 2017

For many patients, especially those living with autoimmune conditions or chronic illness, health care is a delicate balance. Between fighting through fields of red tape, jumping through insurance hoops, and exhausting every treatment available, the process of finding the appropriate medications can be lengthy and arduous. Just when they have settled into the calm waters of normalcy, a disaster event threatens to disrupt this normalcy with rough seas and a whirlwind of chaos. Focus shifts to preservation and survival.

When facing the devastation that follows an event like Hurricane Harvey, the immediate focus becomes survival, rescue, and recovery. With thousands injured, displaced, stranded and needing immediate aid, every thought turns to emergent needs in response and relief, and that’s important. Identifying and addressing life-threatening situations must be the immediate priority.

What happens, though, when the dust starts to settle, the waters begin to recede, we start putting our worlds back together and realize that our health was neglected? It is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when focusing on triage and responding to immediate needs. For individuals managing serious health conditions, the resulting disruption in care can be incredibly costly over the long-term. Hospitalizations, emergency room visits, additional medications, and potentially more serious procedures like surgery, add significant costs to the economic burden of the disaster.

As we assess damage and look for hope in the coming days and weeks, it will be important to shift our focus on long-term plans for sustainable health care and assess the health care infrastructure within impacted communities. Many offices have incurred significant damage and patients will need to seek alternative locations to receive care. Arrangements will need to be made for lost and damaged medications. For some patients, interrupted treatment schedules could result in worsening symptoms and — possibly — further delays in care, increasing patients’ costs and stress.

Material possessions can be replaced. Your health cannot. So, if you or someone you know has been impacted by recent severe weather, remember that it’s important to continue managing your medical condition(s) once immediate threats to life have been addressed. Be sure to make use of available resources to maintain and manage your health. Begin reaching out to your health care providers, ask if, and when, they will be open to see patients. If necessary, open a dialogue with your health insurance company now to address any concerns about getting and staying on your medications or finding new sites of care.

It may seem overwhelming when there are so many other needs to address, but if you look ahead, you can minimize the disruptions to your treatment.

In the face of chaos, healing. In the face of tragedy, triumph. You are not alone. Communities come together in times of crisis. Hold tight to hope: together we can overcome.

Brian Nyquist, MPH

Brian Nyquist is the Executive Director of the National Infusion Center Association (NICA), a nonprofit advocacy organization formed to ensure that some of the nation’s sickest and most vulnerable patients can access the provider-administered intravenous and injectable medications they desperately need.