Emergency plans – something that most of us don’t value or see the importance of until we’re in a crisis situation.

At Hospice of the Panhandle, we have seen the value of emergency plans in many different situations – specifically those for optimal symptom management and those who help to prepare our staff, patients, and families for a natural or manmade emergency.

As a part of our Helping Hearts or Breathing Better programs that serve patients diagnosed with a life- limiting heart or lung disease, patients receive added services such as an occupational therapy consultation, a dietary consultation, and an individualized emergency plan. Our nurses sit down with patients and review with them how to cope with crises that in the past may have sent them to the emergency room. The nurses then try to understand the patients’ support system and what treatments have and haven’t worked previously. Based off of this information, an individualized emergency plan can be built to outline steps to take to manage symptoms at home versus taking a trip to the emergency room.

An example might be for someone who has trouble breathing, we might recommend resting for a bit, using deep-breathing techniques, positioning his or her body to open the lungs, administering medication, and contacting their nurse for further guidance if these steps are not effective. The beauty of an emergency plan is that it can be used for any of our patients’ symptoms and customized to meet the needs of each patient.

Natural or manmade emergencies have been occurring more often in the last few years and can range from snowstorms to tornados to extreme heat to chemical spills. Upon a patient’s admission to Hospice of the Panhandle, our social workers sit down with patients and families and work together to complete a “disaster plan.” The purpose is to make sure as many precautions are in place to promote optimal safety and prevent as little disruption as possible to patient care during emergencies.

Making a list of names and contact info for each household member can be helpful in an emergency situation, including information about pets. Learn about potential disasters that might impact your home. Make a plan for sheltering in place in your own home by choosing a room with no windows, sealing vents, and locking doors. In case of the need to evacuate the home, come up with an escape route and a meeting place, including an alternative for each. Other things to consider is making sure cell phones and medical equipment are fully charged and available, medical supplies and medications are in stock, and creating a supply kit that contains but is not limited to fresh water, food, First Aid kit, flashlight and the like.

Hospice of the Panhandle staff members work hard to anticipate and be aware of potential emergencies well before they occur. We assist patients and families in creating symptom management emergency plans to accomplish their goals of remaining comfortable at home. We work hard to make sure the same patients and families are prepared for natural or manmade disasters by having a plan, stocking supplies and medications, and calling before, during and after for support.

The truth is that emergency plans can benefit anyone – not just Hospice of the Panhandle patients and families. It’s never too early to develop your own emergency plan. Write your plan down and keep it in a safe, but readily accessible area. Having a plan in place before encountering a crisis can help to bring a sense of calmness and control, keep us safe, and see us through.

For more information on emergency/disaster planning, visit www.ready.gov and www.redcross.org

Adaira Green, registered nurse, is the Potomac Team nurse manager for Hospice of the Panhandle. She started as a home care nurse case manager for 2 ½ years and has led the Potomac Team for 3 ½  years. She holds a bachelor of science in degree in nursing and is certified as a Hospice and Palliative Care Nurse.