Nursing students craft disaster plan for disabled

Nursing students are helping emergency preparedness agencies develop a plan for caring for elderly and disabled people during a natural disaster such as earthquake, flood, wildfire or severe winter storm.

Nine juniors in the nursing program at Oregon Health Sciences University at Southern Oregon University are writing a plan for taking care of "vulnerable populations" who shouldn't be isolated in their homes, said Connie Saldana, who works with Rogue Valley Council of Governments senior and disabled services program.

The project is designed to serve some 19,000 people who may be mentally ill, blind, deaf, bipolar, schizophrenic, confined to a wheelchair or on kidney dialysis.

The nursing students are creating a database that will be part of Jackson County's emergency operations plan. The information will allow first responders to quickly locate vulnerable people and determine whether they should remain in their homes or be taken to shelters set up by the American Red Cross, said Heather Freiheit, a nursing instructor in the OHSU program at SOU.

Freihet said her students' planning is the first such detailed assessment in the state, and it will help the Red Cross set up separate emergency shelter areas for vulnerable people.

The plan goes beyond present preparedness for vulnerable populations, and sets a model for the state, said Beth Depew, the coordinator for Jackson and Josephine counties for hospitals and health care systems preparedness.

So far, some 500 people have been registered. Vulnerable persons or their family members may sign up at website To register, click on the disaster registry heading in the left column and follow instructions.

— John Darling, for the Mail Tribune

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