Providing home care in emergency situations

People in need of care and help at home often depend on their relatives, their neighbors or on home care services day in, day out – and their needs become especially acute in situations such as floods, long power outages or prolonged winter storms. But what happens if home helpers and carers can’t reach their patients because the roads are blocked or communication networks are down?

Support systems are based on the needs of the average person

Practice shows that there is no standard process in place to ensure that home patients continue to receive the care and assistance they need in a crisis. Support systems are generally geared toward the needs of the average person and not designed to cater to people in need of daily care and assistance – even though the size of the latter group is growing all the time in countries like Germany. This situation becomes more critical when the emergency services – fire departments, aid organizations and Germany’s Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) for instance – have limited resources which are stretched even thinner again in a crisis situation. As a result, they are unable to cater to the specific needs of people who require care and assistance at home, all the more because the authorities that deal with catastrophes are rarely in the picture about these people’s special needs. A lack of communication and coordination between disaster control services and care services in most cases compounds the problem even further. This situation prompted the Institute of Human Factors and Technology Management IAT at the University of Stuttgart to investigate how the care needs of home-based patients can still be met in the event of a major incident. Their study covered three regions in the state of Hesse. In a set of recently published guidelines entitled Collaborating Successfully, the research team outlines the results of the study, specific recommendations for collaboration and a code of practice for the emergency services, municipalities, district authorities and home care providers.

Guidelines for effective communication, coordination and care

There are four key considerations for ensuring care is provided: 1. The relevant stakeholder groups must be known to each other and must be aware of the resources they each offer. Local authorities and emergency services are usually well connected with one another, but they do not usually communicate and coordinate their activities with local social service agencies that provide advice to caregivers in the community. 2. In order to ensure home patients always receive the care they need, the stakeholder groups named above are advised to form networks and institutionalize them by holding, for example, joint working groups, networking events and regular practice exercises. Building relationships in this way means people can quickly establish contact with the right individuals in an emergency, enabling them to work together to find a solution. 3. The emergency services in particular should plan ahead and draw up appropriate plans of action – ideally in coordination with the other stakeholder groups – for ensuring people do not miss out on the help or care they need at home. To help prepare, it would be useful to roughly estimate the number of people potentially affected. 4. Last but not least, the stakeholder groups should take a systematic approach to collaboration. Details of how to go about this are provided in the KOPHIS guidelines.
The KOPHIS joint research project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (funding code 13N13870), coordinated by the German Red Cross and conducted by the IAT at the University of Stuttgart in collaboration with the Disaster Research Unit at the Freie Universität Berlin, the International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities at the University of Tübingen and the Bad Kissingen Center for Telemedicine.

contact for scientific information:
Veronika Zettl
Urban Data and Resilience
Fraunhofer IAO
Nobelstraße 12
70569 Stuttgart
Phone +49 711 970-2378

original publication:

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