Education must target emergency preparedness

With the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, many people were displaced from their homes. Now there is the fear of contracting anthrax, although people are being exposed one by one rather than on a mass scale, which might require evacuation. With these recent events, it is clear that people need to be prepared for whatever emergency might occur.

"If people are ordered to evacuate, they need to be able to move out of their houses quickly. In order to do that, those on medications should have them located in one place," says Carol Maller, RN, MS, CHES, patient education coordinator at New Mexico Veteran Affairs (VA) Health Care System in Albuquerque.

If medications are scattered throughout the house, they will not only have difficulty finding them quickly, they might leave some behind, she explains. It’s also important that they keep adequate refills of their medications on hand and don’t let their prescriptions run out.

Maller has begun working with the disaster coordinator at the Albuquerque VA to create an information list for patients that provides advice on how to put together a simple disaster supply kit that they could take if they had to quickly evacuate. These might include a few bottles of water, critical medication, and a flashlight. The American Red Cross web site (www.redcross.org) offers information on this topic, but the Albuquerque VA wants to individualize the list for its patients, says Maller.

While the effort still is in the infancy stages, the list would probably be widely distributed rather than targeting high-risk groups. "People need to start talking to their provider and thinking about what they need to do to be prepared and which of their medications are the critical ones," says Maller.

It’s important to work with the person in charge of disaster planning at your health care facility when creating information to distribute to the public, says Maller. "We want to make sure that we are consistent in the information we give out to people," she says.

Have ideas for consumer/ staff needs for bioterrorism preparedness?

Is your institution preparing for national emergencies in light of the recent anthrax scare by creating plans for consumer and staff education? If so, we would like to know what educational programs and/or materials you are putting into place. We would welcome guest columns written on this topic, or information that we might include in an article. Contact Susan Cort Johnson, Editor, Patient Education Management, at (530) 256-2749 or via e-mail: suscortjohn@onemain.com.