9.14.17

When natural disaster strikes, communities are left devastated by the destruction. Following a disaster, chronic disease patients may not have access to a pharmacy or the proper lifesaving care needed to manage their diseases. Even if patients are able to adequately prepare, insurance policies that disregard their needs – or outright discriminate against them based on their condition – may prevent many from refilling critical medicine prior to a natural disaster like hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Prior to Hurricane Harvey, for instance, Texas did not require insurance companies to let patients with chronic diseases such as arthritis refill their prescriptions early, ahead of the storm. In the immediate aftermath, fortunately, Texas instituted an emergency prescription refill policy. Still, thousands of people in Texas, Florida and beyond have had to rely upon the relief efforts of volunteers and health care providers in the meantime. Many have also turned to a Facebook group to receive the medications and supplies they need.

Started by patient advocates, the Facebook group, #IrmaPatients, has grown to nearly 700 members in just a week. The group is dedicated to securing donations that might have been overlooked by traditional relief organizations – everything from heating pads, creams and injections to contact lenses. Volunteers have been working tirelessly to collect donations and deliver these items to patients.

Those who join the group and need supplies can make a request by completing a Google Form on the Facebook page. People who want to help can send items personally or purchase them off the group’s Amazon wish list.

Brooke Abbott, who is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) lifestyle and legislative advocate and runs the website Crazy Creole Mommy Chronicles, began the Facebook group with two other patient advocates, one who is an IBD and ostomy advocate from Empowering Patients and the other a diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis advocate from And Then You’re At Jax.

“I realized that the basic needs of those with special needs and chronic conditions weren’t being met,” Abbott said. “The Red Cross didn’t have ostomy supplies or glucose testing strips. We saw an unmet need not being filled … so we filled it!”

In just a few short weeks, #IrmaPatients has been able to supply Harvey and Irma victims who suffer from chronic diseases with critical medical equipment such as new CPAP machines, ostomy supplies, medication and diabetes supplies. For those in need of prescription medication, the group also has resources to help get prescriptions refilled. More than 200 people have donated to the group so far.

Because many insurance companies have strict requirements for refilling prescriptions, the chronic disease community has relied upon volunteers and innovative relief efforts conducted by groups like #IrmaPatients. In times of crisis, insurance companies might turn a blind eye. Join the Chronic Disease Coalition to learn more about discriminatory policies and how you can help give a voice to those living with one or more chronic diseases.

Our hearts go out to the many patients affected by Harvey and Irma. The following organizations are a few providing assistance and updates for those in the hurricanes’ paths:

The American Kidney Fund

The Agency for Health Care Administration

ESRD Network 7

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention