Monday, September 15, 2008

Health Care and Hurricane Ike

Americans, by nature, are a giving people. Our nation is known for its generosity. When disaster strikes, individuals and families are quick to offer money, time, and resources to help those in need. Our government, although it has its faults, has learned to step up the plate to help those in need, both foreign and domestic. Even though many like to complain about inefficiences with the federal, state and local government and their respective agencies, when crunch time comes, help is on the way. A case in point was the response to Hurricane Ike which struck the Texas Gulf Coast on Saturday morning, September 13. Massive efforts have been taken by the State of Texas, the Cities of Galveston and Houston, and other entities to help citizens get assistance for food, shelter, and essential life saving information.

And, yet, still there were thousands of people who refused to evacuate or heed the warnings about the real possibility of significant, catastrophic destruction, loss of life, and no electric power for several days and weeks. Putting your life in jeopardy simply to ignore "certain death" as described by the weather bureau is not a wise decision. How can anyone reasonably justify riding out a hurricane only because they don't want the government telling them what to do, or because they fear loss of property more than loss of life? Furniture, homes, and most material items can be replaced. Life cannot.

In the brief days now following Hurricane Ike, electric companies are working around the clock with most workers spending 16 hour shifts to get the power back to over 4 million people. Phone companies are scrambling to get cell towers replaced and repaired so customers can use their phones to call and send text messages. Utilities for water, sewage, gas and electric are working hard to help repair basic services. Police, firefighters, EMTs, and emergency personnel are stretched almost beyond capacity to make sure that those who need help can get it. The military, including the National Guard and the Coast Guard are facilitating rescue and recovery to thousands of affected people on the Gulf Coast. FEMA is working along with the State of Texas and local government agencies to get assistance to those who were displaced including those who evacuated and those who did not. The American Red Cross is spending millions of dollars to feed and house those who fled Hurricane Ike's destructive wind, rain, and flooding. Other charitable organizations including churches and faith based groups, such as Texas Baptist Men, are helping as much as possible by providing temporary shelter, food, water and ice, and other items.

And the clean up is underway on a huge scale. With estimates among the three major catastrophe modeling firms ranging from $6 billion to $18 billion according to an article released on MarketWatch, losses from Hurricane Ike will be material to both the primary insurers located in the U.S. and to the global reinsurance industry, according to Fitch Ratings in a new insurance industry report. If initial loss estimates are accurate, Ike could be the third largest insured loss from a hurricane, behind only Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew. Americans faced with such overwhelming catastrophe can be thankful that the nation has the resources to help recover. Although it is difficult emotionally, financially, and some times physically to deal with a natural disaster of such huge proportion, there is always hope. Generosity will continue until the affects of Hurricane Ike have been largely addressed. And, there also will be long term issues to fix.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has very good information about protecting your health following a hurricane, including some general safety items:
1.) Have at least two fire extinguishers, each with a UL rating of at least 10A, at every cleanup job.
2.) Wear hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves, and watertight boots with steel toe and insole (not just steel shank) for cleanup work.
3.) Wear earplugs or protective headphones to reduce risk from equipment noise.
4.) Use teams of two or more people to move bulky objects. Avoid lifting any material that weighs more than 50 pounds (per person).
5.) When using a chain saw, operate the saw according to the manufacturer's instructions, wear appropriate protective equipment, avoid contact with power lines, be sure that bystanders are at a safe distance, and take extra care in cutting trees or branches that have gotten bent or caught under another object. Use extreme caution to avoid electrical shock when using an electric chain saw.
6.) If there has been a backflow of sewage into your house, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles during cleanup of the affected area.
7.) In hot weather, try to stay cool by staying in air-conditioned buildings, taking breaks in shaded areas or in cool rooms, drinking water and nonalcoholic fluids often, and wearing light and loose-fitting clothing. Do outdoor activities during cooler hours.
8.) Remove and discard items that cannot be washed and disinfected (such as mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings, and paper products).
9.) Remove and discard drywall and insulation that has been contaminated with sewage or flood waters.
10.) Thoroughly clean all hard surfaces (such as flooring, concrete, molding, wood and metal furniture, countertops, appliances, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures) with hot water and laundry or dish detergent.

Concern about hygeine and water issues according to the CDC should also be followed:
1.) After completing the cleanup, wash with soap and water. If there is a boil-water advisory in effect, use water that has been boiled for 1 minute (allow the water to cool before washing). Or you may use water that has been disinfected for personal hygiene use (solution of 1/8 teaspoon of household bleach per 1 gallon of water). Let it stand for 30 minutes. If the water is cloudy, use a solution of 1/4 teaspoon of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.
2.) If you have any open cuts or sores that were exposed to floodwater, wash them with soap and water and apply an antibiotic ointment to discourage infection. Seek immediate medical attention if you become injured or ill.
3.) Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water and detergent. These clothes should be washed separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens.
4.) If the building is flooded, the waters may contain fecal material from overflowing sewage systems and agricultural and industrial waste. Although skin contact with floodwater does not, by itself, pose a serious health risk, there is risk of disease from eating or drinking anything contaminated with floodwater.
5.) To reduce cold–related risks when standing or working in water which is cooler than 75 degrees F (24 degrees C), wear insulated clothes and insulated rubber boots, take frequent breaks out of the water, and change into dry clothing when possible.
6.) Local authorities will tell you if tap water is safe to drink or to use for cooking or bathing. If the water is not safe to use, follow local instructions to use bottled water or to boil or disinfect water for cooking, cleaning, or bathing.

Much more information about dealing with carbon monoxide, hazardous waste and materials, electrical and structural safety issues, and other health precautions can be found on the CDC website. Additionally, assistance to deal with post-traumatic stress is also available for issues related to the following: Difficulty communicating thoughts, difficulty sleeping, difficulty maintaining balance, easily frustrated, increased use of drugs/alcohol, limited attention span, poor work performance, headaches/stomach problems, tunnel vision/muffled hearing, colds or flu-like symptoms, disorientation or confusion, difficulty concentrating, reluctance to leave home, depression, sadness, feelings of hopelessness, mood-swings, crying easily, overwhelming guilt and self-doubt, and fear of crowds, strangers, or being alone.

Hurricane Ike was not the storm of the century as it had been predicted prior to its landfall; but like every hurricane, especially one the size of Ike, this storm wreaked havoc in the billions of dollars and disrupted the lives of millions of families and individuals. For many of those people, life will never be the same again. They are suffering financial and emotional loss, and will continue to deal with the aftermath for some time to come. Some of those people will deal with the stress of loss well, and some will not. Health care for the short term is extremely important to the victims of this hurricane, especially for evacuees who were critically ill and required immediate attention. Those who are on medications have prescription needs, and those who suffer both mental and physical disorders have critical needs for their medical providers and health care facilities to meet. Immediately following a disaster like Hurricane Ike, the health care industry must forego business as usual and step up treatment that provides assistance without the standard red tape. Also, Americans must provide compassion to those in need during disaster recovery. Helping out also means helping others up.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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