Even on a good day, when their lives are not overwhelmed by events that they cannot control, senior citizens and the disabled are often confronted by the threat of depression. So when disasters strike, such as Superstorm Sandy did in late 2012, the impact is even worse.
Although local, state, and federal agencies have the ability to bring resources to them, until recently, many agencies did not have enough information about the storm impact in order to help.
This could change with a new study that will examine Medicare data in several communities hit hardest by Sandy, and the storm’s effect on the behavioral health of older and disabled people.
Jersey City is among a handful of municipalities in the state that will be examined. The researchers will first study Medicare data prior to the storm, then immediately afterwards, and finally, the more longterm impact.
The aim is to allow governmental officials to work with community leaders to improve the coordination of behavioral health services and prepare for any future disasters.
“Collecting this baseline data is the first step toward understanding how Superstorm Sandy affected the behavioral health of Medicare recipients.” – Marianne Sagarese
Some older adults and disabled residents of Jersey City may be at increased risk of deteriorating health, depression, anxiety/adjustment disorders, and isolation as a result of events like Superstorm Sandy.
New data may help focus response
A new behavioral health profile, developed by Healthcare Quality Strategies, Inc. (HQSI), the federally designated healthcare quality improvement organization for New Jersey, provides data that can help determine a storm’s impact, and allow local agencies to react to events and possibly provide care before they adversely affect people in Jersey City.
The Jersey City profile is one of 10 community and 10 county profiles developed as part of an ambitious Medicare-funded project, “Enhancing Coordination of Behavioral Health Services after Superstorm Sandy: Planning for Future Disasters.”
The project aims to help local communities understand how the storm affected the behavioral health of older adults and the disabled, as well as plan for future disasters. Another goal is to encourage greater use of depression screening, a covered service for Medicare beneficiaries that can help those who are deteriorating.
Even prior to the storm, Jersey City seniors and disabled had the highest percentage of depression, anxiety, or adjustment disorders in that area.
“Collecting this baseline data is the first step toward understanding how Superstorm Sandy affected the behavioral health of Medicare recipients,” said Sagarese.
Even then, this will only show those cases which were reported by doctors. The impact is more than likely even greater than the study will show.
HQSI is reaching out to community leaders and the mayor in Jersey City to discuss how this data can help increase the rate of depression screening and support a community-based approach to behavioral health services after a disaster.
Sagarese said, “Unfortunately, in our society, the stigma associated with behavioral or mental health may prevent people from seeking care. Since depression can also affect physical health, screening is an important health tool. That’s why we want to spread the word that depression screening is a covered Medicare benefit.”
Sagarese said the impacts on people are often felt long after the event has passed, noting that similar impacts on people from Hurricane Katrina were still felt two or three years afterward.
“Many still had depression-related problems,” Sagarese said. “We wanted to look at Medicare data to see what the difference was from before the storm.”
Ten communities throughout the state most impacted by Sandy (according to FEMA data) are being examined. A study will be released in a few months showing the impacts in these areas immediately following the storm. Later, a third report will show the more long term impacts.
The community profiles, and the county profiles HQSI developed for the New Jersey counties declared federal disaster areas after Superstorm Sandy, are available at www.hqsi.org.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.