Disaster preparedness for vulnerable persons receiving in-home, long-term care in South Carolina.

PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to examine how agencies in South Carolina that provide in-home health care and personal care services help older and/or disabled clients to prepare for disasters. The study also examines how agencies safeguard clients’ records, train staff, and how they could improve their preparedness.

METHODS: The relevant research and practice literature was reviewed. Nine public officials responsible for preparedness for in-home health care and personal care services in South Carolina were interviewed. A telephone survey instrument was developed that was based on these interviews and the literature review. Administrators from 16 agencies that provide in-home personal care to 2,147 clients, and five agencies that provide in-home health care to 2,180 clients, were interviewed. Grounded theory analysis identified major themes in the resulting qualitative data; thematic analysis organized the content.

RESULTS: Federal regulations require preparedness for agencies providing in-home health care (“home health”). No analogous regulations were found for in-home personal care. The degree of preparedness varied substantially among personal care agencies. Most personal care agencies were categorized as “less” prepared or “moderately” prepared. The findings for agencies in both categories generally suggest lack of preparedness in: (1) identifying clients at high risk and assisting them in planning; (2) providing written materials and/or recommendations; (3) protecting records; (4) educating staff and clients; and (5) coordinating disaster planning and response across agencies. Home health agencies were better prepared than were personal care agencies. However, some home health administrators commented that they were unsure how well their plans would work during a disaster, given a lack of training. The majority of home health agency administrators spoke of a need for better coordination and/or more preparedness training.

CONCLUSIONS: Agencies providing personal care and home health services would benefit from developing stronger linkages with their local preparedness systems. The findings support incorporating disaster planning in the certification requirements for home health agencies, and developing additional educational resources for administrators and staff of personal care agencies and their clients.