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Researcher Shows Elderly Struggle During Power Outages

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Rick Haye, Marshall University Communications
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A professor of geriatrics at the Marshall University School of Medicine recently published an article that shows the elderly struggle when the power is out.

Dr. Shirley M. Neitch is a professor of geriatrics in the department of internal medicine at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. She, along with a team of researchers, just published an article on the effects of prolonged power outages on the health care of elderly patients. The study was published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Geriatrics. Neitch said although the premise seems obvious, many times elderly and especially bedridden elderly aren’t ready for the outages.

“If you ask specific questions, do you have a week’s worth of your medications, would you evacuate if you were told to do so, would you know where to go if asked to evacuate? You find out it’s not 100%, they are not really ready,” Neitch said.

And she said that’s the scary part for those providing care to geriatric patients.

The study highlighted two cases following the 2012 derecho that left millions of people without electricity for days across much of the mid-Atlantic United States. The excessive high humidity and sweating led to an increase in moisture on the patients’ skin. Without power it was difficult for caregivers to keep them clean and dry because of the lack of air conditioning and heated water. Both patients later died and their situations during the power outage were believed to have played a role.

Neitch and her team of researchers say their studies show the need for continuous power service for bedridden patients and overall awareness of opportunities for elderly when outages occur. Neitch said most power companies offer a high-priority restoration status, but documentation must be completed with the assistance of health care providers. She says even then, depending on the situation, having a high-priority restoration status is not a guarantee that the power will be back on anytime soon. Neitch says more elderly need to make use of the 211 Call Center System and the Vulnerable Needs Registry. The 211 system will allow the elderly and their caregivers to locate services that are needed. Neitch said it comes down to a need for better coordination of services.

"There is no need to reinvent wheels," Neitch said.

“My hope for the larger community is that people that are doing some really good and really hard work out there trying to make us all better prepared for this can start talking to each other because there is no need to reinvent wheels,” Neitch said.

The Vulnerable Needs Registry, available in 9 WV counties, requires a survey be completed for the patient, and makes sure there is a record of what the patient needs when an emergency occurs. Neitch said she just hopes this brings more attention to something that is near and dear to the hearts of many. As part of the study Neitch and her team produced a Patient Tip Sheet as well.

The study notes that the Vulnerable Needs Registry is only available in Cabell, Boone, Jackson, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, Mingo, Putnam and Wayne counties, unlike the 211 Call Center System, which is available nationwide.


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