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Severe weather tips if you use home oxygen

Living in eastern North Carolina can be quite challenging if you use home oxygen. Hurricane season is usually difficult at best, and then there’s the havoc caused by even the smallest amounts of snow and ice. It is extremely important for people who depend on Long Term Oxygen Therapy to have up-to-date emergency plans in place to cover all crisis situations where electricity is expected to be out for longer than a few hours. If you are a LTOT user, you probably already know that bread, milk, a blanket, a flashlight and new batteries are not enough to keep you healthy and breathing through an extended power outage.

The first and most important thing you need to do is to assess your medical and oxygen needs. Does your home oxygen supplier make sure that you always have at least a 72-hour supply of oxygen tanks available as soon as severe weather reports are issued for this area? Making sure you have enough oxygen if you cannot use your concentrator should be the first step in developing your plan. Begin by making sure that you have your home oxygen company’s name and emergency telephone number posted in a visible location. If you have a cell phone, program the company’s name and emergency number in it. Next, make yourself a checklist using this information as a guide:

  • Based on the amount of oxygen you use (your liter flow), how many tanks will you need to get through 72 hours (three days) without electricity? Your company should be able to give you this information in writing.
  • Call your home oxygen company as soon as you begin to hear severe weather alerts. Home oxygen suppliers are responsible for making sure that their LTOT customers have the oxygen they need during extended power outages. If your company does not make every effort to meet your needs during severe weather episodes, or tells you that their emergency plan is for you to go to the nearest hospital when your oxygen runs out, it is probably time to find another company! Most hospitals, including Vidant Beaufort, cannot keep more supplemental oxygen tanks on hand than they need for immediate inpatient and emergency department use.
  • Are you able to connect, turn on and correctly set your flow amount on an oxygen tank? If not, ask your company to teach you, and/or someone in your house, as soon as possible. Ask for written instructions, also.
  • Do you have a back-up generator? Has it been serviced for this year? If not, get that done now. Is it easily accessible? Can you or someone in your home operate it? At the first mention of any type of severe weather, you should make sure that you have at least three days’ worth of fuel on hand.
  • Make a complete list of all your medications, all your doctors’ names and the name and telephone number for your pharmacy. Post this list in a visible place. Keep a two-week supply of your medications on hand, if possible. If you use a nebulizer for any of your respiratory medications, ask your doctor to prescribe metered-dose inhaler versions of those medications to use during power outages and other emergencies.
  • Do you have all of your important medical documents, such as insurance cards, living wills and medical power of attorney papers, in a safe but easily accessible place? Make sure you take this paperwork, along with your home oxygen company information, with you if you go stay with friends/family or have to evacuate your home.
  • If you have not already done so, call your electricity company to make them aware that you depend on electricity to power your oxygen supply. Ask what emergency plans they have in place for LTOT customers. There are two primary companies in Beaufort County — Washington Utilities and Tideland EMC. Your company’s number is another good one to program into that cell phone.
  • If you live alone, arrange to stay with family or friends, if possible. At the very least, ask friends and family to routinely check on you, especially when severe weather is possible. Whether you live alone or not, a strong support system of family and friends will make any crisis situation much easier for you.
  • Consider relocating to a shelter set up especially for people with medical needs, if you cannot evacuate or relocate. For information about shelters that can accommodate LTOT people during severe weather situations, call the Beaufort County Emergency Management Office at 252-946-2046. In this area, most shelters are located in schools and/or churches. You will be expected to take your own concentrator with you, along with your other personal belongings.
  • Keep a flashlight, battery-operated radio and fresh batteries close by at all times. Inexpensive battery-operated weather radios are usually available at hardware and general merchandise stores.
  • Speaking of batteries — most major retailers carry portable batteries for charging cell phones starting at under $20. If you have a cell phone, these can be worth their weight in gold!
  • Stock up on enough bottled water for at least three days. Plan on at least one gallon per person per day; however, if any of your medications give you a dry mouth, increase your amount to two gallons per day. Dehydration can be life-threatening, so make sure you keep plenty of drinking water available.
  • Keep enough non-perishable food on hand to keep you fed for three days. Stock up on things like peanut butter, bread, crackers, fruit cups, canned tuna and chicken, canned vegetables —anything you can eat straight from the can. Don’t forget the can opener!
  • If you have a car, try to keep at least a half tank of gas or more at all times.
  • Rely on local TV and radio reports to get information about impending emergency situations. Reserve 911 calls for medical, police or fire emergencies.
  • Copy and share your plan with at least two family members or friends not living with you, thus making your plan available even if your copy is lost or destroyed.
  • Finally, pat yourself on the back for being so proactive! When you are well prepared, all but the very worst crises can be little more than inconveniences. Let’s face it: one of the best qualities about eastern North Carolina, especially the Inner and Outer Banks, is the resiliency of her people. We know how to cope!

Alene Payne, MS, RCP/RRT, is the manager of Cardiopulmonary Services at Vidant Beaufort Hospital. If you have any questions, please email her at Alene.Payne@VidantHealth.com.