Solutions Journalism: How caregivers can prepare for weather emergencies
Editor’s Note: This story was produced through the New York & Michigan Solutions Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of news organizations and universities dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems. The group is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network.
September is National Preparedness Month, and we’re looking at a critical issue for seniors and caregivers. Do you have the tools to survive a weather emergency? Forty-seven people died in last year’s blizzard in Buffalo. And half of them were 65 or older.
For almost three years, News10NBC and nine other media outlets in western New York have been investigating solutions to the challenges that caregivers face. Our task this time was to find solutions to survive an emergency.
Jensen Caraballo and Wilfredo Rodriguez are best friends and have been inseparable since childhood. Now the two young men are inseparable as adults. Rodriguez is Caraballo’s caregiver. Caraballo has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder that is progressively robbing him of the ability to move.
“The older I get, the weaker I’ll become,” said Caraballo.
But the illness cannot weaken his sharp intellect and unwavering insistence that he be given the freedom to live and work as an independent adult.
“It is so important to me. I think it’s life or death for me to be able to live independently in the community,” he said.
It’s life or death because Caraballo, now 33, knows what it’s like to be trapped not only by his failing body, but also by the failure of societal support for the disabled.
“I was 15 years old when I was forced to live in Monroe Community Hospital,” he recalled. The hospital housed a nursing home, and Caraballo, a high school student, found the experience unbearable. That’s where his best friend entered the picture. Rodriguez decided to work as one of Caraballo’s caregivers, enabling him to live at the Charlotte Harbortown high-rise. But his apartment is on the 12th floor.
“If there was a fire here, I don’t know how I would get out,” said Caraballo.
That’s not the only threat that keeps Caraballo up at night. Any disaster, natural or otherwise, could put him at risk.
“That’s the kind of thing that I think about every time a storm happens,” said Rodriguez. “Me and Jensen talk about this all the time.”
Upstate New York winters worry them both.
Asked what he believes is needed, Wilfredo responded, “I think if we had some kind of task force that was specifically designated for people with disabilities in an emergency setting.”
He envisions a task force, already armed with lists and contact information for the elderly, disabled and their caregivers, at the ready, providing emergency aid during any disaster.
While Monroe County doesn’t have a task force, it does have a site where you can register your cell phone number to be alerted in an emergency.
”It’s a reverse 911 so you can get a text. You can get a phone call, and if you’re hearing impaired you can get a TTV message sent to your system,” said Kevin Hannes, Accentcare Vice President of Emergency Management.
That’s not all. At the bottom of the form you can check the box indicating you’ll need special assistance during an emergency so rescuers can get to you quickly.
”It’s building a plan and being a part of that planning process,” said Hannes. “Communities should go out and seek their elderly, their seniors, and make them part of their planning process.”
Accentcare, a private home health organization, develops an emergency plan with each of its clients, something he believes every senior must do.
That’s why the New York State Office for the Aging, together with the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, is providing emergency training for seniors and their caregivers across the state of New York.
It’s for older adults themselves. what to think about. how you need to be prepared,” said Greg Olsen, director of the New York State Office for the Aging. “What do you do with your pets? Do you have extra prescription drugs. what if you can’t get out of the house.”
Those are critical questions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 85 percent of U.S. adults over age 65 have one or more chronic diseases; 83 percent use at least one prescription drug, and about a third use five or more prescription drugs. And here’s what’s really concerning. An AARP survey found only 29 percent of older adults believe they’re prepared for an emergency.
The free training hopes to change that, and help you create a plan for emergencies. Attendees at each session will receive a backpack with essentials like a weather radio and emergency blanket. The sessions are free but you must register.
The session in Rochester will be held at Lifespan on Wednesday, Sept. 20, at 2 p.m. The one in Albion will be held at the Hoag Library on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at 6 p.m. Click here to register for either session.