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Preparing For Storms When You Have Special Medical Needs

Fredd Thompson

When a hurricane is approaching, everyone needs to have a plan in place. When you have medical needs, that preparation becomes even more critical.Dr. Theo Sai is the chief medical officer for senior products for Humana in Central Florida. He's also lived through several hurricanes.

“I remember the worst one for me was in the Bahamas, where I was on the first floor and it was a pretty bad hurricane, and Nassau typically floods a lot,” Sai said.

When he offers advice on preparing for hurricanes, it comes from his own experience.

“So just being there alone in the apartment by myself and basically not having access to anything, it kind of brings home the point that it is important to prepare,” Sai said. “I mean, something as simple as water, thank God I had a gallon of water there, but if that storm had lasted a little bit longer, I don't know what I would have done.”

He said it took that storm to get him to do things differently.

“I used to say, 'why do people rush to the supermarkets when there's a storm coming?’ But after that, I used to be the first person in the line, to make sure that I had everything ready,” he said.

He said for people with chronic medical conditions, getting everything ready also means figuring out what to do if you have medical devices that you need to plug in, or medications you need to keep cold.

“If you stay at home and there is a loss of electricity, your refrigerator obviously cannot keep the temperatures that are required to make sure that your medication doesn't go to waste,” Sai said.

Since power outages can also impact ventilators and other devices, Sai recommends evacuating out of the area with friends or family, or registering for your county's special needs shelter.

Keely Smith is the special needs shelter coordinator for Hillsborough County. Individuals who need assistance with medication, rely on medical devices that need a power supply or use oxygen are among those who meet the medical criteria for special needs shelters.

Each Florida county has a registration form, available online or by calling the county health department or sheriff. More information and applications for special needs medical shelters are available online at this link.

Smith, with Hillsborough County, says pre-registration is important, but if you show up at the shelter, you won’t be turned away, if you're qualified.

“Individuals that are preregistered for the program, they’ll walk in, give the registration desk their name, and then get let right on into the shelter,” Smith said. “If you haven’t preregistered, then you’ll have to go through a triage process, where the nurses will have to determine whether or not you qualify, and then you’ll have to get registered and provide all of your information.”

Smith also said that if you have medical records, you need to make sure to make copies and bring those with you if you evacuate.

“People don’t think about trying to recreate 80 years of medical history,” she said.

As part of any evacuation plan, whether you're going to a shelter or elsewhere, you need to make sure you bring your medications with you.

As Sylvia Smith of Disability Rights Florida explains, a state law passed in 2006 allows for early prescription refills under certain emergency circumstances.

“If your county is under a hurricane warning, or is part of the state of emergency in Florida by executive order of the governor, or if your county has activated its emergency operations center, the insurance companies are required by Florida law to remove any barrier to you receiving an early refill for your medication,” Smith said.

Smith says that because of this law, her organization no longer get complaints from people who say they had trouble getting an early prescription refill to put in their hurricane emergency kit.