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Affected by Florence? Here are 4 ways to support chronically ill populations post-disaster.

September 20, 2018

    In the wake of high-profile hurricanes that have hit the southern United States, population health leaders are increasingly interested in disaster-recovery. Looking back to 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, 41% to 74% of victims had one or more chronic conditions, and continuity of care for these patients was identified as a major health care provision issue in the storm's aftermath.

    Upoming webconference: How Hurley Medical Center is bringing food security to Flint, Michigan

    Chronic diseases identified as medical management priorities include mental health; diabetes, hypertension, and kidney disease; respiratory illness (including COPD and asthma); and cardiovascular disease. Lack of access to dialysis, needed medication, and healthy food are cited as some of the major barriers to effective chronic disease management.

    Here are four ways to mitigate chronic disease and population health impacts of a disaster.

    1. Identify vulnerable populations and network of care before a disaster hits: Use data sources, such as the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), to understand the size, functional status, and needs of vulnerable populations. You can also prepare an electronic registry of local public health organizations, mental health providers, clinics, pharmacies, faith-based organizations, and social services agencies that provide resources for chronically ill patients. Both of these tactics will help you prevent the duplication of services and improve collaboration between local and external entities. In addition, this centralized coordination will help you determine the required critical medical supplies and streamline post-disaster distribution.

    2. Ensure maximal medication maintenance: The affordability and accessibility of medications pose as key challenges to chronic disease management after a disaster. In addition to relaxing insurance limitations and issuing waivers for early refills and emergency dispensing, it is vital to improve the allocation of donated medications (i.e. antihypertensives, glucose-lowering agents, medications for anxiety and depression, asthma medications, and antibiotics) to minimize waste.

    3. Improve food security: Food insecurity is associated with chronic conditions (including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and poverty-related obesity), and exacerbated by disasters. To increase access to healthy food, population health leaders should increase efforts to connect patients to food banks, community partners, and government agencies. For example, after Superstorm Sandy, SNAP and WIC benefits were re-issued to replace spoiled food supplies and expanded to include prepared foods, providing families without kitchen facilities benefits for meals.

    4. Facilitate access to virtual support: Telemedicine can be used to bridge gaps in patient‐provider communication post disaster. During a telehealth consultation, virtual doctors can treat mental health, refill prescriptions for people with diabetes or hypertension, and give medical advice to help prevent and mitigate chronic disease.

    Upcoming webconference: Learn best practice models for addressing food insecurity

    Learn how Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan developed an effective Food FARMacy program to meet one of the most pressing non-clinical needs in the community.

    Register Now

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