Winter Storm Jonas: A Model of Emergency Preparedness

There is still plenty of cleanup work to be done as New York City digs itself out from the aftermath of Winter Storm Jonas, but we at SelectCare Home Care Services of NY wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible compassion and hard work displayed by our caregivers and office staff, as well as the patience and understanding of our clients during this challenging weekend.

New York Snow_January 2016

More than 26.6 inches of snow landed in Central Park on Saturday alone, breaking the city’s previous record of 24.1 inches set in 2006. The outer-borough neighborhoods that many of our aides call home were hardest hit by Jonas and blocked roadways, combined with the 4 PM MTA shutdown and travel ban, could have proven disastrous for an unprepared home care agency.

Despite these considerable challenges, we at SelectCare are proud to say that every one of our Level 1 and Level 2 priority patients (service cannot be interrupted) saw no gaps in service, and less than 20% of our Level 3 priority patients (those receiving housekeeping and companion care)  experienced delays or altered schedules.

With the odds stacked so thoroughly against a home care provider over the weekend, you might wonder how we managed this success. There are two answers to that question: First, the professionalism, talent and compassion of the caregivers our clients depend on cannot be understated. Second, we at SelectCare truly understand the importance of emergency preparedness.

I will not attempt to explain the first factor – every member of our staff did incredible things this weekend to bring a friendly (and snow covered) face to their client’s door. If you have the opportunity to speak to one of the Home Health Aides, LPNs and RNs who chose to leave their homes and visit their client, I’d encourage you to ask them personally.

Instead, I will write what I know: the work SelectCare’s staff performs from Day 1 of a new case to ensure they are prepared for emergencies like this one.

  • Nurse Supervisors: All new SelectCare clients are assigned to a Nurse Supervisor, who performs a free in-home health and safety assessment before we begin service, as well as free follow-up visits every month. This ongoing process includes regular checks for emergency supplies like flashlights, food, water, medication and hygienic products and ensures that when an emergency happens, our clients can “shelter in place” in comfort and safety.
  • Caregiver Training: Emergency training is a huge part of SelectCare’s caregiver orientation process.  During training, we cover basic home, travel and fire safety, but also put an emphasis on emergency preparedness in the caregiver’s own home.  Because our staff has the confidence that their own families are well-stocked and safe, they can spend a day like Saturday with their client, confident that their loved ones are prepared.
  • Agency-Wide Planning: When dealing with an emergency, an agency needs to manage two finite resources: the caregiver staff capable of serving clients, and the level of need for each client. With this information, the agency can make informed staffing choices that ensure our clients who need the most attention to safely weather a storm receive the care they need. Meanwhile, our more stable clients can rely on their emergency supplies and receive regular calls from our on-call staff. SelectCare uses a three-tiered system to classify the needs of our clients and we base our emergency staffing decisions on this information.
  • Advanced Warning: SelectCare works closely with our partners at NYC Emergency Management and other city agencies to ensure that we have as much warning as possible prior to any emergency event. We use the city’s Advanced Warning System to spot potential blizzards and other contingencies early, as well as Notify NYC to gather information about smaller-scale emergencies that might impact individual clients.
  • Early Communication: As soon as our office learns of potentially dangerous weather, we begin to communicate with both our caregivers and clients. Alerting them to the potential dangers and impacted areas, and also planning alternate travel arrangements and adjusting schedules to minimize last-minute staffing changes.
  • Constant Communication: In the case of Winter Storm Jonas, the city expected about a foot of snow as late as Friday night. When that estimate jumped an additional foot and MTA service was scheduled to shut down, SelectCare was able to roll with the changes. This was possible because our in-office administrators and nurses also serve as our on-call staff. Because of this arrangement, we avoid wasting precious time communicating messages back and forth, and our on-call staff can make important decisions as the situation changes. Finally, we send emails detailing subway and bus service changes to our entire staff and have an approval process in place that allows us to quickly authorize travel spending and get our caregivers to the clients that need them the most.

I hope you found this post informative. The fact remains that without a team of caregivers like SelectCare’s, all the planning in the world would do little to assist our clients. It’s thanks to their efforts that our clients and their loved ones could face Winter Storm Jonas with confidence.

On a final note: SelectCare was alerted to the blanket travel ban only a few hours before it was instituted. In the event any of our caregivers were stopped by police while travelling to a client, we were issued phone numbers we could call to verify that these caregivers were what the state considers “essential personnel” and thus free to continue travelling.

Fortunately, we did not need to use this ad hoc solution provided by NYC Emergency Management, however it underscores the importance of the Essential Personnel Bill we have previously covered in these blogs. Sadly, this potentially life-saving piece of legislation has stalled in Albany. We hope that the state will remember the events of this weekend and revisit this important issue before the next major emergency.

To learn more about how SelectCare’s team of home health care experts can provide you and your loved ones with the safety and independence you deserve, through good weather and bad, call us today.