Why prolonged power outages could mean health problems for some Islanders

·2 min read
Monica Thomas has been delivering oxygen tanks to people who need an uninterrupted supply for health reasons.  (Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)
Monica Thomas has been delivering oxygen tanks to people who need an uninterrupted supply for health reasons. (Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)

With Hurricane Fiona approaching P.E.I.'s shores, home-care provider Monica Thomas has turned into something of a delivery driver this week — travelling the Island, dropping off large oxygen tanks to clients.

Many people with lung conditions such as COPD and pulmonary fibrosis rely on plug-in home oxygen machines to keep breathing.

"So when there's this expectation of long-term power outages, we want to make sure our folks are prepared at home.  Mainly that means providing them with backup oxygen tanks, which doesn't rely on a source of power," she said.

"In the urban areas, we try to have maybe 24 hours worth of oxygen. Outside, in rural areas, we maybe look more for 48 hours. Then hopefully we'll be able to get back out on the road, if power outages are longer than that… and deliver oxygen as they need it."

Thomas says her company is better prepared than ever to ensure clients are covered, with a large supply of tanks ready for delivery.

Lessons from Dorian

When Hurricane Dorian hit in 2019, knocking out power to parts of the Island for several days, they nearly ran out, and had to arrange a last-minute delivery.

"We know these storms are getting more powerful, so we're becoming more prepared, making sure we have more oxygen in our offices to ensure we can supply what [they] need," she said.

Steve Bruce/CBC
Steve Bruce/CBC

"Sometimes EMS may have to be called if oxygen is running low at home. We hope that doesn't happen."

Thomas noted that Dorian prompted some of her clients to buy power generators for their homes to make sure vital machines keep working.

'It gives me peace of mind'

Christie Jay, who has cystic fibrosis, has done the same.

"It gives me peace of mind," she said of her generator. "I have to use a [plug-in] nebulizer for my breathing medication daily. So if the power's out and I miss that, I'm at a higher risk of getting congested in my lungs, and possibly getting a cold or sicker.

"So we like to make sure we have power, of course."

Steve Bruce/CBC
Steve Bruce/CBC

Jay said she worries about other people with cystic fibrosis and other conditions who don't have generators.

"I know a lot of people don't have that luxury, so it's kind of worrisome," she said.

'Buddy system' recommended

P.E.I.'s Office of Public Safety says Islanders with special health requirements should establish a personal support network — including friends, relatives, neighbours, co-workers, and health care providers.

"If you rely on any life-sustaining equipment or if you require regular attendant care, ask the people identified as your personal support network or buddy system to check on you immediately if an emergency occurs and have an emergency plan, especially during a power outage," the provincial office said in a statement.