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3. An Alternative Method for Estimating the At-Risk Population
Given the difficulty of identifying data sources that
contain the necessary level of detail, the investigators attempted to take a
grassroots approach by going directly to one community (Worcester, Massachusetts)
and asking local health care and social service providers to estimate the number
of at-risk individuals. A global list of home health agencies, hospice care
organizations, oxygen suppliers, home infusion providers, medical supply
companies, substance abuse and methadone clinics, Meals on Wheels providers,
and adult day care centers was compiled through an Internet search and the Department
of Health and Human Services' Medicare Supplier Directory. These
organizations were contacted by phone during May and June 2009. When an
appropriate contact person was located, which was not possible in all cases, the
contact was asked a list of questions related to emergency preparedness.
Table 18 shows the number of entities on the original contact list, the
number of entities for which a contact person was found, and the number of
entities that provided information about at least one of the questions, either by
phone or E-mail. Although investigators were able to reach 87 percent of the original
contacts, only slightly more than 25 percent were willing to share information,
and of those only a handful could provide estimates of the number of
clients/patients they considered to be in the highest risk category for
hospitalization if services were disrupted during a disaster.
The home care agencies were better able to estimate the
number of patients in the highest risk category; in contrast, only one oxygen
supplier could provide an estimate of their patients at highest risk.
This attempt at gathering estimates from the "ground up" was
labor intensive and did not appear to yield any better information than that
available from the national surveys. The investigators were not completely
confident that they had reached every possible supplier/provider in the area
and found it took multiple attempts to establish contact with the entities
identified. In some cases, the supplier/provider identified did not service the
group of patients/clients pertinent to this study. Even when contact was made
with an appropriate individual, some supplier/providers were not particularly
forthcoming with information they may consider proprietary. For these reasons,
local emergency planners are not likely to be able to estimate the at-risk
population in this way.
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