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Older adults are a potentially medically vulnerable population with increased mortality rates during and after disasters. To evaluate the impact of a natural disaster on this population, we performed a temporal and geospatial analysis of emergency department (ED) use by adults aged 65 years and older in New York City (NYC) following Hurricane Sandy’s landfall.
We used an all-payer claims database to analyze demographics, insurance status, geographic distribution, and health conditions for post-disaster ED visits among older adults. We compared ED patterns of use in the weeks before and after Hurricane Sandy throughout NYC and the most afflicted evacuation zones.
We found significant increases in ED utilization by older adults (and disproportionately higher in those aged ≥85 years) in the 3 weeks after Hurricane Sandy, especially in NYC evacuation zone one. Primary diagnoses with notable increases included dialysis, electrolyte disorders, and prescription refills. Secondary diagnoses highlighted homelessness and care access issues.
Older adults display heightened risk for worse health outcomes with increased ED visits after a disaster. Our findings suggest the need for dedicated resources and planning for older adults following a natural disaster by ensuring access to medical facilities, prescriptions, dialysis, and safe housing and by optimizing health care delivery needs to reduce the burden of chronic disease. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2018;12:184–193)
We aimed to characterize the geographic distribution of post-Hurricane Sandy emergency department use in administrative flood evacuation zones of New York City.
Using emergency claims data, we identified significant deviations in emergency department use after Hurricane Sandy. Using time-series analysis, we analyzed the frequency of visits for specific conditions and comorbidities to identify medically vulnerable populations who developed acute postdisaster medical needs.
We found statistically significant decreases in overall post-Sandy emergency department use in New York City but increased utilization in the most vulnerable evacuation zone. In addition to dialysis- and ventilator-dependent patients, we identified that patients who were elderly or homeless or who had diabetes, dementia, cardiac conditions, limitations in mobility, or drug dependence were more likely to visit emergency departments after Hurricane Sandy. Furthermore, patients were more likely to develop drug-resistant infections, require isolation, and present for hypothermia, environmental exposures, or administrative reasons.
Our study identified high-risk populations who developed acute medical and social needs in specific geographic areas after Hurricane Sandy. Our findings can inform coherent and targeted responses to disasters. Early identification of medically vulnerable populations can help to map “hot spots” requiring additional medical and social attention and prioritize resources for areas most impacted by disasters. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2016;10:351–361)
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