Friday, November 21, 2014

Epic Buffalo Snow Storm Impacts Hospice Work

Watching the news of the tremendous amount of snow falling in Buffalo and Western New York this week, I could not help but think about the challenge facing patients and families served by local hospices. Thankfully, there was some warning about the enormity of the snowfall coming which provided time for hospice organizations to call their patients to check on medication and oxygen supplies.  I spoke Thursday morning with Dr. Beth Calkins, a hospice physician with Hospice Buffalo. "I wish you would have written a story about emergency preparedness two weeks ago. This is a really tough situation for our patients and families." As many news outlets highlighted, some in the Buffalo area were either confident they had seen 'bad snowstorms' in the past, or potentially dismissing the unbelievable forecasts as unlikely and part of weather forecasting hype. Thankfully most people prepared ahead of time, but what do you do about someone who is frail and on hospice?

Dr. Calkins praised the work of the nurse managers who called each patient ahead of the storm to verify important areas like safety, medications and emergency plans. "We are calling our patients every day, more if needed.  But new issues arise when a patient suddenly has severe symptoms or begins to enter an active dying phase." She noted calling several pharmacies to find many of them closed. The two she found open (with pharmacists stuck there when they could not get home) were able to fill medications, but the patients nor families could not necessarily get to the pharmacies!

"What about walking?", I asked.  "Impossible in many areas because the snow is too deep and there are no safe areas to walk," she replied. "We have some of our emergency services using snowmobiles. We are really appreciative the ambulance service has given priority to our patients when needed."
Another issue hospices may overlook when transportation is cut off because of natural disaster is the complications of after-death care and safe removal of someone who died. Since funeral homes are unable to arrive, ambulance service may be the only option, which is not a customary choice when you think about a death on hospice.

Most of the staff have been handling crises by phone, but the staff are not immune to the effects of the storm. "Both our patients and our Team 6 staff live in the south Buffalo area which was hit hardest." If staff cannot get out of their homes, they are not going to be able to get to patients obviously. In addition, they may be primary caregivers for children or adult family members in an already stressful situation.

Dr. Calkins is hopeful the upcoming warm weather will provide relief from the snow, but is aware the risk of flooding remains high, which may put the integrity of houses at risk even more than the potential of a snow-collapsed roof.

When these natural disasters hit, the attention almost always focuses on hospitals, fire and police, but it is critical to support home-based medical services as well. A big thank you for the strong work by all hospice and home health professionals in Buffalo.


Here are some pictures provided to us from Hospice Buffalo:






Check out the past stories in our Disaster Preparedness series:
Iowa Floods Affecting Hospice Care
Hospice Care in the Aftermath of Hurricane Ike

Video Credit: Drone Footage Storm Day 3 by James Grimaldi via YouTube
Photo Credit: "Buffalo, NY" jilleatsapples via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: All other images courtesy of Hospice Buffalo - All Rights Reserved

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