Opinion

Commentary: Families need solid emergency planning

By Angela Clary

Caregivers lead busy lives. It’s often a challenge just to keep up with day-to-day obligations. But family caregiver emergency planning is important, and something that should always be kept up-to-date.

Emergencies happen, and a crisis is not the best time to figure things out. A good emergency plan can save time and worry, and help ensure everyone stays safe.

One of my colleagues recently saw this lesson underscored firsthand. She’s a social worker who was working with a family caregiver to develop a comprehensive safety plan. The caregiver’s mother is an older adult who could not navigate the stairs on her own. The family was concerned about fire safety, but they were not sure how to approach the problem.

My colleague contacted the local fire department for advice, and a firefighter agreed to come to the home to help. Together, the firefighter, my colleague, and the family came up with a plan. If there was a fire, the mother would make her way to a second floor balcony and the family and firefighters would know to look for her there.

That is just one example. Each case is unique. That is why it is important to have your own caregiver emergency plan up to speed. Here are a few tips to help get you started:

Plan together — If you do not have an emergency plan, now is a good time to create one. Start by identifying the most likely safety concerns in the household and develop a response plan together. Fire, medical, and weather emergencies are common concerns — you may have more. The key is identifying potential problems ahead of time and having a plan that ensures everyone’s needs are met. It’s important to be on the same page. And be sure to update the plan as things change.

Evacuation readiness — Having a plan to get everyone out of the house quickly is crucial. Map the escape routes, with an eye toward identifying potential problems, and designate a meet-up point outside.

Have a backup plan — A caregiver being out of commission for any amount of time is often an emergency, so it’s best to have a backup plan. Caregivers often assume family or friends will step up, but that can backfire and leave everyone scrambling. The emergency plan should include backup for the caregiver, if possible.

Access Resources — Caregiver resources vary by circumstance and location, so it is helpful to get expert perspectives. Elder service agencies often provide caregiver resources. One example is Adult Foster Care, a MassHealth-funded program that provides compensation, training, and a home safety evaluation for family caregivers. Your local agency should know of other programs and resources as well.

I’ll close with one last bit of advice: Having been a social worker for some time, I have noticed that people often do not want to think about the worst case scenario, and often vaguely hope that things will just work out. It is understandable, but I would advise any caregiver that committing to an emergency planning process is a relatively easy way to help ensure health and safety. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Angela Clary is a licensed clinical social worker and outreach specialist for Adult Family Care (AFC), an Adult Foster Care provider that serves the Greater Boston, North Shore, and Merrimack Valley areas. For more information, email [email protected], call 617-628-2601 or visit adultfamilycare.org.

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