(NEW YORK) -- As Hurricane Irene threatened the East Coast this past weekend, many sick, elderly residents were left debating whether to evacuate from their homes or ride out the storm. Staying put could have put them in direct danger and hitting the road could result in added stress.
So where's the best place for frail patients to go during natural disasters such as Irene?
The American Red Cross says some fare better in shelters, which evaluate their medical needs and have nurses and emergency medical technicians available to address urgent issues.
However, going to a shelter "is always going to be the last thing you want to do," said Jim Judge, executive director of Lake-Sumter EMS Inc., in Mount Dora, Florida. "If you're in a good, solid home ...you're going to be far better off...as long as you're not in a flood-prone area."
Judge, a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council, advises families worried about an elderly parent or grandparent to ask local emergency management offices if they have plans to shelter "the elderly, the frail, individuals that might have medical conditions such as oxygen dependence." Aides or caregivers can accompany them during shelter stays, he said.
Caregivers and families should make sure to ready emergency kits well in advance of disasters. These can be assembled in a duffle bag, backpack or suitcase -- preferably on wheels, which are easier to maneuver -- and stored under the bed, so they can be rolled out for use at home, or taken to a shelter during an evacuation.
Although disaster preparation focuses on food, water, and medications, "the biggest problem we run into is oxygen for oxygen-dependent patients," Judge said. Because power failures cut off the flow of life-saving oxygen through electric-powered devices, patients may want to consider portable machines that can be plugged into a car's DC adapter and run off the car battery, he said.
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