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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Help Emergency Responders Care for Elderly and Disabled

An alarming editorial appeared in the Columbus Dispatch recently. Deborah Kendrick in “Emergency responders can worsen plight of disabled victims” recounted a disquieting incident.

Stephen Pyles, 55, is deaf and unable to communicate verbally. After calling 911 because his house was burglarized, the police officer sent to help instead arresting him because he interpreted Stephen’s frantic attempts to give the officer a hand-written note as aggression.

The rough treatment Stephen received from the officer exacerbated Stephen’s neck pain that had just been treated with surgery a few days before. Stephen feels he cannot trust the police to provide help and protection in the event of another emergency. The author also told of how she experienced what she thought was a stroke and while firemen did come and offer a ride to the hospital, they did not offer any sort of immediate medical attention that would have been needed had the author indeed been experiencing a stroke.

These stories raise a clear warning for those who have loved ones with disabilities. Families cannot completely rely on law enforcement and emergency professionals to always understand the unique limitations of people with disabilities and offer the best assistance during crisis.

Family members of people with disabilities need to make plans for emergencies so that their loved ones’ health and safety is protected as much as possible. Some specific ways to prepare for emergencies would be to:

1. Instruct family members with disabilities to contact family members right after emergency professionals,

2. Keeping relevant health records in an easily accessible location and instructing family members to give the materials to emergency professionals, and

3. Enlisting neighbors and nearby friends to offer assistance in emergency situations.

If the family member is not their own guardian, legal documents must be prepared so that non-relative friends who offer assistance will have the legal authority to do so and the family member will not be placed in foster care.

All of this is taken care of in our routing estate planning for Golowin Legal clients. Whether that includes Health Care Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, HIPAA Release forms, all instantly available to family and emergency responders alike, or whether that includes rarely used Do Not Resuscitate documents clearly visible in the home. For children, their Kids Protection Plan serves a similar purpose.

Family members are the most important people in our lives, and the one of the best ways we can show our love for them is by protecting them from potentially traumatic and even life-threatening traumatic events through careful planning.