After the devastation experienced on the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina, it became apparent that there was a need to be proactive rather than reactive. This was especially true in relation to people with special needs. In 2008, Sampson County put together a Special Needs Task Force to help prepare for meeting citizens’ needs in the case of an emergency situation.
The task force was an effort between the Department of Social Services, Department of Aging and Sampson County Emergency Services to develop a plan to meet special needs citizens in Sampson County. One of the outcomes was the development of the Special Needs Registry.
Lorie Sutton, director of the Department of Aging, stated that their primary function was to develop and implement a Disaster Sheltering Plan for the special needs population. That is what they came up with and the county commissioners approved it in April 2010.
“While we have this program in place, it is vitally important that caregivers of special needs individuals either update or enroll their parent, child, grandparent or anyone with special needs so we will be able to contact them prior to an expected event and ensure they are taken care of. Also it will give us some idea of where they are in case of an unexpected emergency situation. Having a registry affords us a chance to ensure services are provided prior to, during and after an emergency situation,” stressed Sutton.
DSS is responsible for general public shelters in Sampson County during emergency situations. Those shelters accommodate individuals who are self-sufficient and need no outside assistance in performing activities of daily living or individuals with impairments yet who are self-sufficient and capable of performing ADLs without assistance, including taking medication.
The Special Needs Task force is there to ensure people are cared for during any special situation where their lives may be in peril.
The Special Needs Registry provides vital information to emergency responders in the event of a 911 call and/or during a widespread disaster (e.g. hurricane, flood, blizzard, power outage, disease outbreak). This program is voluntary and individuals on the registry have the option to accept or deny assistance. Completion of the registration form, however, in no way guarantees that the registered individual will receive immediate or preferential treatment in a disaster.
Sutton explained, “The special needs plan covers those people who fall into those two categories. In other words, if an individual has special needs and cannot perform Activities of Daily Living for themselves or suffers from some mental impairment, then they may require special needs sheltering.”
These two categories include people who need assistance with the following ADLs: personal hygiene and grooming, dressing and undressing, self feeding, functional transfers (getting from bed to wheelchair, getting onto or off of toilet, bowel and bladder management, ambulation. The other category is for individuals with mental health or developmental problems that cannot be handled by general public shelter staff.
“We are encouraging caregivers to take the time now to either update their loved ones or check to see if they are on our registry. It could be a matter of life or death in a disaster situation,” asserted Sutton.
The registry is totally voluntary but it does allow emergency personnel the ability to know what their needs are and to make the necessary arrangements to accommodate the individual’s special needs in an emergency.
“If a special needs individual is on our registry, which is very confidential, we will know where they are, what their needs and restrictions are, who cares for them and if they have a proposed plan in the event of an emergency. It is a vital connection to them so we can do all we can to make sure needs are being meet in the event of an emergency,” said Sutton.
Sutton explained that the county has made plans to establish a special needs shelter if an individual does not have the needed services elsewhere. These needs again are beyond what are available at the customary public shelters that may be set up in the emergency situation.
“We outsource needs whenever possible, but we do have a plan to set up a special needs shelter if the services are not available anywhere else. We just want to make sure all needs are met,” cited Sutton.
The goals of the Special Needs Task Force include: maintaining the special needs registry; making referrals pre, during and post event of a disaster to participating agencies, physicians, public shelter nurses, and medical facilities; to identify resources for special needs individuals; and to identify individuals with special needs with the Special Needs Registry.
Sutton stressed that the registry is completely voluntary.
“It is designed as a means to contact individuals with special needs and help them get assistance during a disaster. Individuals on the registry decide whether or not to accept assistance and/or remain responsible for themselves in the event of an emergency.Contact is made with everyone on the registry before an impending disaster to be sure they are taking care of or to see if help is needed,” explained the director.
The Special Needs Registry includes information for the deaf and hard of hearing and asks questions such as can the individual use sign language. Primary language is another question. Who the individual lives with as also needed on the form.
Medical information is requested such as, if the individual with special needs experiences asthma, emphysema, or COPD. Are they visually impaired, speech impaired or memory impaired? Do they have seizures? Is the individual developmentally disabled, have a mental health condition or has an ongoing contagious condition? In addition other information asked refers to special conditions like being confined to bed, confined to a wheelchair, ostomy care, uses a walker, allergies, G-tube feeders, dialysis, insulin dependent, taking required I.V. medication, weighing in excess of 400 pounds, uses incontinence supplies, requires refrigeration of medication, special dietary needs, use of portable oxygen or uses an oxygen concentrator or ventilator.
The form explains that if the special needs individual requires a special diet and must go to a shelter, they should be prepared — pack and bring with the appropriate foods with them. Also any other required or life-sustaining equipment or medication; or other special requests (DNR - Do Not Resuscitate Order, religious beliefs), should also be included in what are brought with them to the special needs shelter.
“We are working now to update those already on our registry and are urging anyone with special needs or their caretaker to come by the office and pick up an application. We want and need to know what the special needs are and who needs them in case something does arise in the future so we can ensure their safety and meet their needs if possible,” stressed Sutton.
An individual can pick up applications at the Sampson County Department of Aging, Sampson County Emergency Management, and Sampson County Department of Social Services. Completed applications need to be returned to Lorie Sutton, Sampson County Department of Aging, 405 County Complex Road, Clinton.