August 11, 2010

New resources now available to help Missourians on supplemental oxygen prepare for emergencies

Web pages launched today provide new guidance to individuals and families

Coping with emergencies and power outages is a challenge for everyone, but the problems are even more complicated for Missourians who rely on supplemental oxygen to deal with lung or respiratory problems.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services today launched new web pages with additional resources to help individuals using oxygen to plan for and respond to emergency situations. The new information will be combined with literature from the department’s Ready in 3 disaster preparedness program, then distributed to hospitals, clinics, home care services and other health care providers.

“These new tools were developed to make sure that people who are disabled because of respiratory problems are not left behind in an emergency,” said Margaret Donnelly, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. “To reach this important group, the department is working with care providers and asking them to share the materials with their staff and clients.”

Thousands of Missourians use supplemental oxygen in their homes, in hospitals or in nursing homes every day. During a disaster, power is often knocked out and oxygen canisters might run out before new supplies can be obtained. For many people, the loss of supplemental oxygen can be life threatening.

The new resources include a checklist specific to the needs of individuals using oxygen. The information encourages people to designate multiple places they could go to obtain back-up power, including at least one out-of-town site. It advises people on oxygen to contact their local power company to be added to the priority reconnection service list. And it tells people to talk to their oxygen supplier about the plan for continuing service during emergencies. It also recommends that patients using oxygen identify individuals willing to help them during an emergency or if they need to evacuate.

Patients using oxygen also should never smoke or be around someone who is smoking or using an open flame. Such actions can cause fires and even explosions.

The advice should be used in conjunction with Missouri’s Ready in 3 family safety guide, which details how to prepare for a wide range of emergencies. A family plan outline that can be adapted to individual situations can be found on the state health department’s website at .

“In an emergency, several days might pass before vital services are restored and roads are cleared,” Donnelly said. “These new resources provide critical information about how Missouri’s oxygen users can plan and prepare for all types of emergencies. Being prepared to act quickly, and having plans and supplies in place can help you ride out a disaster.”

The Ready in 3 program reminds Missourians of three simple steps they can take to prepare for and deal with all types of emergencies.

  1. Create a plan.
  2. Prepare an emergency kit.
  3. Listen for information.

“The new tools, when properly used, will help users of supplemental oxygen maintain supplies during an emergency while also helping emergency responders recognize and address the specific needs of this population,” Donnelly said.

Mary Kramer of Rich Fountain knows first-hand the importance of having an emergency plan and practicing that plan with her family. Mary’s 9-year-old daughter, Emily, relies on supplemental oxygen regularly because of heart and lung complications.

“Most days we live our family’s emergency plan,” Mary Kramer said. “With Emily in and out of a St. Louis hospital so frequently, my other children are separated at times and need to know how to reach each other or us at the hospital quickly.”

Kramer has prepared by identifying people who can help during emergency situations and by gathering supplies for long, unexpected trips to the hospital. She also has designated alternative locations for the family to meet during power outages so that Emily has oxygen when she needs it.

“Emily could need medical attention at any time,” Mary said. “So having our emergency supplies and knowing what to do and how to care for her when we are two hours from her hospital is vital. Coping with the stress of the situation is easier knowing my family has worked through our plan.”

Missourians on oxygen and their care providers can order additional materials and tools on-line at or by calling the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services at 573-526-4768.

The Ready in 3 program is part of the state health department’s ongoing efforts to keep Missouri ready to respond to natural or man-made disasters.

“We can’t predict what will happen, but we can be prepared,” Donnelly said.