Report gives guidelines on dealing with at-risk populations during a disaster in the shadow of COVID-19

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A national health officials organization has re-released their report on how to meet the needs of at-risk populations when disaster strikes while dealing with the response to COVID-19.

According to the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), at-risk populations in communities, including those with disabilities, older adults, and those with chronic or temporary medical conditions, need continuity of care from Home and Community-Based Service (HCBS) providers. The report’s findings are based on a workshop convened in 2016 with HCBS, local health departments, and the Office of Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast in 2016.

NACCHO said the report could help communities prepare for the coming hurricane season while simultaneously dealing with COVID-19.

The report found that the hurricane exacerbated underlying social determinants of health, poverty, and access to care. The report also found that HCBS clients faced significant challenges navigating through the bureaucracy of disaster recovery. According to the report, preparedness activities helped build health and resilient communities.

The report further found that at-risk individuals who had the support of family, friends, and other community members were much more able to access the disaster services they needed to recover.

Other suggestions from the report included:

• Finding alternate communication channels like text messaging, social media, and website posts and determining how to communicate with those who may have hearing or visual impairments.
• Locating and confirming the safety of clients through door-to-door assessments if clients are otherwise unreachable
• Maintaining a centralized database of clients
• Anticipating staffing shortages by encouraging staff assignment flexibility and cross-training
• Ensuring staff resilience by providing worker safety and emergency preparedness training
• Assigning staff to their home neighborhoods to adapt to any closure of public transit
• Working with local emergency managers before an emergency to ensure that HCBS staff are considered essential and allowed to travel to client locations.

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