Hurricane Planning For Those With Special Medical Needs

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When preparing to deal with the effects of a major storm such as a hurricane, South Carolinians with special medical needs should be especially careful in their planning, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control reported today.

"In advance of hurricane season, people with special medical needs should consult a physician regarding the best place for them to be in a storm," said Ann Lee, director of DHEC's Office of Public Health Nursing. "Someone with special medical needs should plan to stay with family or in a hotel or motel further inland. Shelters should be used only when no other options are available. They should be your last resort."

"Anyone requiring special assistance should be prepared to evacuate early because physicians or other health care providers might not be readily available," Lee said. "Leaving early will also help you avoid stressful traffic delays that can further harm your health."

When evacuation is recommended, a DHEC Special Medical Needs Shelter will be opened in affected areas. Each DHEC SMNS provides limited health care services for people whose medical conditions exceed the capabilities of Red Cross shelters, but are not severe enough to require hospitalization.

"A DHEC SMNS has restrictions on the types of medical needs that can be accommodated," Lee said. "These shelters are setup for use by anyone who is able to live on their own with a caregiver. It is important that one caregiver accompany the person being admitted to a DHEC SMNS, and only that caregiver will be permitted to be in the shelter with the person. The caregiver is expected to stay at the shelter."

Lee said those who need to use a DHEC SMNS should:

* Call the shelter in advance to verify that back-up generators are available. Electricity and backup generators might not be available at all times and in all shelter locations. The telephone number to call during an emergency will be announced on television and radio when the shelters are opened.

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* Bring enough medications and medical supplies for seven days.

* Bring medical equipment used at home such as wheelchairs, canes or walkers.

* Make arrangements with their durable medical equipment company to assure extra canisters or refills could be supplied if they are oxygen dependent.

* Make arrangements with their home health agency to continue services while in the shelter.

* Bring one caregiver with them to the shelter. The caregiver is expected to stay at the shelter.

* Keep a current list of necessary items for an emergency situation including medications, medical supplies, oxygen concentrators, tanks or canisters, and other items.

* Inform family members where they will be during the storm.

* Ask a relative or friend who lives more than 100 miles away to be their emergency contact person. Keep in mind that a caller is more likely to connect with a long-distance number outside the disaster area than with a local number within it. Shelter workers will need this information in case of an emergency.

Shelters should be used only when no other options are available. They should be a person's last resort. For more information about DHEC Special Medical Needs Shelters, contact your county health department.

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