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Perkins: Extreme weather leaves most vulnerable at risk

Linda Perkins
The Detroit News

Michiganians are no strangers to extreme weather. Unseasonable storms and rapidly changing forecasts are becoming all too familiar, leaving residents vulnerable to natural disasters and severe events like tornadoes, extreme heat waves and flooding.

Unfortunately, like the rest of the nation, most of us aren’t prepared. According to , 77% of households believed that they were vulnerable or at-risk for a natural disaster, but only 50% of those respondents were confident in their ability to prepare for an event.

This disparity increases dramatically when considering older adults and those with disabilities or significant chronic care needs. For these populations, preparation is crucial as disruption to daily routine, or an emergency evacuation can have a devastating impact on overall wellness and quality of life that can be difficult to recover from. In mitigating the risk of long-term, serious issues, health plans and other healthcare organizations are uniquely positioned to help ensure that individuals are prepared.

A storm-damaged mobile home is surrounded by debris at Pavilion Estates mobile home park just east of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Throughout my career working as a nurse and director of clinical operations at CCA Health Michigan, I have gained a deeper understanding of the health effects of extreme weather events. The devastating impact on overall wellness and quality of life can be difficult to recover from. Extreme heat can make it , which can cause hyperthermia, heat exhaustion, heatstroke or extreme dehydration. Dehydration and high temperatures can also including rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, asthma, chronic kidney disease, hypertension and more.

When power outages occur as a result of major thunderstorms or tornadoes, households cannot preserve perishable food items or refrigerated medications, access electric appliances to prepare meals or have adequate air circulation or cooling in cases of extreme heat. Such storms are even more challenging for those struggling to pay for day-to-day living expenses since replenishing lost food items and prescriptions may not be as easy.

The nurses at CCA Health Michigan, for example, meet with members regularly to put medical, mental health and social support plans in place. Part of those check-ins can be helping to connect members to the resources they might need during emergencies. Our clinical care teams have deep knowledge of the local resources available, and my biggest advice to all Michiganians is to also make sure you are aware of local resources that can help you and to have a written care plan ready to go.

A great place to start is , which offers resources and guides for general preparation for extreme weather, providing tips on what to do before, during and after a natural disaster. For those with significant health needs, even more preparation is required.

Another local resource is the , which provides an easily navigable database for both statewide and local southeast Michigan residents to find resources such as cooling centers or emergency shelter options should they be displaced from their homes due to an emergency evacuation or unsafe conditions.

Severe weather can cause disruptions to even the most routine care plans — and those disruptions can quickly become catastrophic, especially when normal resources are temporarily unavailable. By making sure you are taking the proper steps to prepare for a severe weather event, and even helping your neighbors do the same, we can improve our individual and community resiliency during these emergency times. 

Linda Perkins is director of clinical operations at CCA Health Michigan.