Coney Island

Report recommends steps to help elderly survive natural disasters

July 24, 2014 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Sandy inflicted heavy damage in the New York area and the elderly was at significant risk
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An eye-opening report by medical professionals contends that changes need to be made to help the city’s elderly survive in the event another Hurricane Sandy-type disaster hits here.

The report, “Resilient Communities: Empowering Older Adults in Disasters and Daily Life,” was released by the New York Academy of Medicine on Tuesday.

Among its recommendations: the city should concentrate on community preparedness and look at how communities can help the elderly, rather than focusing on encouraging individuals to prepare “go-bags” and other disaster coping mechanisms.

“Individual preparedness is important, but it doesn’t connect older adults with the resources and support they need in disaster situations,” said Lindsay Goldman, project manager for the New York Academy of Medicine and the author of the report. “We are calling for a paradigm shift towards a community preparedness model of disaster recovery from one of primary emphasis on individual preparedness. Resources are needed for enhancing communities’ social networks, connectedness, and integration of assets long before disaster strikes.”

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Previous efforts to increase individual preparedness among older adults through the creation of “go-bags” and the stockpiling of supplies in the home are not enough, the report contends.

Vulnerable populations face significant barriers in attempting to prepare, including lack of funds, transportation and storage space, as well as difficulty reading maps and other preparedness content, according to the report’s findings.

The report recommends 12 steps toward community preparedness, including establishing community planning hubs in each neighborhood, supporting landlords who own buildings with large concentrations of senior citizens, enacting a pharmacy law for disasters and consulting with home health care and hospice providers on emergency plans.

“With extreme weather projected to increase, a new strategy is required to keep older adults, who are often among New York City’s most long-term, civically engaged residents, safe,” said Dr. Jo Ivey Boufford, president of the New York Academy of Medicine.

The report draws on data collected immediately after Sandy, and interviews with more than 200 older adults, experts, and leaders of community-based organizations in neighborhoods that were hit hard by Sandy when the devastating storm came ashore on Oct. 29, 2012. The interviews were conducted in English, Mandarin and Spanish.

Following Sandy, tens of thousands of older adults were isolated in high-rise buildings and private homes in Coney Island and other shorefront communities around the city. The elderly were in need of food, water, heat, medical attention and medication.

New York City’s 1.4 million people age 60 and over constitute 17 percent of the city’s total population, according to the report. The number is projected to increase by 50 percent over the next 20 years.

While the elderly are among the most vulnerable population in a natural disaster, they are also a valuable resource, Boufford said. “Older people are also effective first responders, and should be seen as problem solvers in disasters rather than problems to be solved,” she said.

Older adults have unique needs during disasters, but also unique strengths to offer in supporting their communities, according to Boufford, who said that many senior citizens have lived in their neighborhoods for many decades and know their communities inside and out.

The report was funded by the New York Community Trust and the Altman Foundation.

Founded in 1847, the New York Academy of Medicine works to advance the health of people in cities. The academy’s priorities, according to its website, are to create environments in cities that support healthy aging; to strengthen systems that prevent disease and promote the public’s health; to eliminate health disparities; and to preserve and promote the heritage of medicine and public health.


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