BY JAMIE LOBER
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends having a brief, comprehensive summary of information important for hospital or pre-hospital emergency management of a child with special healthcare needs. This can come in handy whether you are faced with a home, local area, or national crisis. It should be formulated by a child’s caregivers, healthcare professionals, and all subspecialty providers. Here are other ways to prepare.
It is often too easy to be lulled into safety and to believe that an emergency situation cannot happen to you. You never know when you may need to evacuate your home or when basic services like telephone and electricity may be cut off for a few days. You may think you can call the fire department when the truth is that they are going to be drawn to bigger assessment issues in a disaster. “By planning and being prepared even with just a few things, you can make it so you can get to a shelter or until emergency services can get to you but it will be awhile,” said Beth Crispin, health educator at Seattle Children’s Hospital Center for Children with Special Needs. Police and fire personnel are there to help you but they may be completely swamped.
8 Know your child’s condition and educate others about it. “Take diabetes as an example. “Diabetes can be controlled and much of that is through education, so someone who develops diabetes needs to be informed about the disease, complications, and proper treatment,” said Dr. Thomas C. Jones of the Jones Center for Diabetes and Endocrine Wellness in Macon. It starts with you, and then you must tell others. “Have a medic alert bracelet in case your child has to go to the emergency room or the paramedics so they know what the condition is,” said Dr. Jennifer Shu, spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics – Georgia. In the case of an emergency, it can help to have someone else who is knowledgeable and able to act in your child’s interest. “If there is someone you trust like a family member or neighbor, you might want to share general information about your child like how to help him with moving a wheelchair or at least showing him where emergency supplies are stored,” said Crispin.
8 Have contacts handy and know your community resources. “Choose an emergency contact person outside of your area because it may be easier to call long distance than locally during a disaster and post emergency phone numbers by your telephone,” said Gina Kuehn, service coordinator supervisor at Babies Can’t Wait in Macon. Find out if there is a service organization nearby that can be of assistance. “You do not have to stay at a Red Cross shelter to get their services; you can go there to get help recharging batteries if a child is on a machine that needs a recharged battery or if you need help getting prescriptions,” said Crispin.
8 Use an emergency form. “The American Academy of Pediatrics has basic emergency forms that include the child’s name, birth date, basic background information, medications, emergency contact numbers for the physician and things to know like if the child is unable to communicate with verbal language and may use sign language,” said Crispin. It should also be noted if any medications need to be refrigerated. The school should have a copy of this as well.
8 Take two. Having extra equipment or medicine in the case of an emergency can be lifesaving depending on your child’s need. “A kid with asthma would need extra asthma medicine; a kid with diabetes might need extra insulin; if the child is dependent on a medical or transportation device that is electrical, plan to have a generator or adapter, says Shu.” For example, if the child has asthma, you may need an AC adapter for the car so he can use a nebulizer.
8 Plan two weeks in advance. Ideally, you should have a two week supply of medical supplies which includes syringes, suction catheters, or tubing. “You need at least a three day supply of your medication but two weeks is best,” said Crispin. Remember that you may not have access to the things that typically support you like your local pharmacist. It is also a good idea to have extra supplies on board just in case such as a manual wheelchair or other non-electric equipment, batteries for hearing aids and communication devices and a cooler or chemical ice packs for storing medications that must be kept cold.
8 Talk to the police and fire department. Let them know that you have a child with special needs so they are aware. You may also want to talk to your child’s pediatrician about what you should be most prepared for in the case of an emergency. He can help you collect all relevant information. “You should store the current medical information and important records in an easy-to-carry format like a CD or flash drive and keep at least one paper copy in a waterproof bag,” said Crispin.
8 Do not forget your pet and comfort items. “If a child has a service animal, you have to make plans for the animal so he has food in the case of disaster,” said Crispin. Comfort items like a little book or stuffed animal that makes your child feel safe and secure can help. Knowing where to tune in to your local emergency radio station can make you feel more empowered.
8 Practice the plan. Families should have an escape plan for their home. “Be sure there are clear exit paths for a child with mobility devices or vision loss and have shoes under the bed in case of evacuation,” said Crispin. The service animal may want to rehearse too.
8 Review your records. “Every six months, you should review the plan, update numbers and check supplies to be sure that nothing has expired, spoiled or changed,” said Kuehn. Of course, make sure people can identify your child. He should have identification to carry in case the family gets separated.
Sometimes parents can feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of managing a special need. They may think that having an emergency plan is just one more thing but it does not have to be a stressor. “If you break it down into small steps and pull a few things together, you will feel a lot less stressed,” said Crispin.