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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UAlbany: Effects of Hurricanes on Elderly Health Can Last at Least 1 Year Post-storm

Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast U.S. in October 2012, gaining national attention for its devastating impact. During the storm, thousands of residents lost power, evacuations were ordered, and various hospitals were forced to close.

Although there is significant information on injury and mortality during hurricanes, much less information exists on the long-term health impacts of the storms, especially when it comes to elderly Medicare-Medicaid beneficiaries. Research by a team including DrPH candidate Mr. Wayne Lawrence, Dr. Ziqiang Lin, Dr. Guthrie Birkhead, and Dr. Shao Lin aimed to address this knowledge gap. This work was supported by funding from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response.

The team looked at emergency department visits and hospitalizations related to cardiovascular disease (CVD), respiratory disease, and injury among residents in 8 affected areas immediately, 4 months, and 12 months after superstorm Sandy. They compared this data to persons in non-affected New York State counties along with data from the 5 years prior (2007-2011). The participants were primarily elderly dual-eligible Medicare-Medicaid beneficiaries.

The results showed consistent increases in CVD, respiratory disease, and injury for the elderly from four months up to a year following superstorm Sandy. For females, the risk of CVD was twice as high as it was for men. The risk of CVD, respiratory disease, and injury was lower for non-white participants.

These findings provide evidence for the necessity of including long-term health effects into public health and disaster preparedness. Responses that include long-term solutions can have a large impact— particularly for those who are most vulnerable.