Patients using critical equipment at home need safety net during power outages

June 5, 2019

June marks the start of hurricane and fire season for millions of Americans, and following the lessons of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the Camp Fire in Northern California, The Clean Energy Group is calling for public health professionals to recognize that it’s “past time to address the dangers faced by more than 2.5 million Americans – primarily senior populations – when power outages due to storms, fires, or other disasters impact the home medical devices that the medically vulnerable need to survive.”

The Clean Energy Group has released what it describes as a first-of-its kind analysis showing that resilient battery storage technologies can provide reliable backup power for critical home medical equipment. “Home Health Care in the Dark: Why Climate, Wildfires and Other Risks Call for New Resilient Energy Storage Solutions to Protect Medically Vulnerable Households from Power Outages,” is a joint effort by two national nonprofits, Clean Energy Group and Meridian Institute, that details the risks associated with power outages for individuals reliant on electricity for in-home medical and mobility equipment, examines how battery storage and solar technologies can mitigate the risks, and provides a set of recommendations to improve access to resilient power technologies.

The need for battery storage solutions is especially critical today as more people opt to receive medical care at home, rather than in a nursing home or hospital. As natural disasters increase in frequency and severity, access to resilient backup power in the event of an outage can be a matter of life or death for these residents. For example, The Clean Energy Group says healthcare complications, including outage related issues like medical device failure, accounted for almost one-third of the estimated 4,645 deaths in the three months following Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands in 2017.

“Until now, emergency backup power options for households reliant on electricity-dependent medical equipment were limited,” said lead report author Marriele Mango, a program associate at Clean Energy Group, in a statement. “Battery storage is a new solution that could fundamentally change how medically vulnerable households prepare and prevail through an outage. The public health and energy fields must start working together to ensure that this high-risk population is protected with these new emerging energy technologies in the event of an outage.”

State and local governmental agencies, utilities, and even insurance providers should recognize battery storage and solar as critical to life support during a disaster and provide opportunities for medically vulnerable, electricity-dependent individuals to access resilient systems. Among the recommendations for policymakers and public health professionals detailed in the report are the following:

·   funding research into energy security and resilience for home healthcare beneficiaries;

·   developing better data that accurately portrays the size and scope of the electricity dependent population;

·   collaborating with healthcare providers and home health agencies;

·   fostering utility-administered residential battery storage programs; and

·   encouraging legislators to expand Medicare coverage to include battery storage.

Annie Shapiro, a program associate at Meridian Institute, added insight into the urgency for solutions. “Across the country, we are seeing a growing population of electricity-dependent individuals and an increase in the duration and frequency of power outages,” said Shapiro. “These factors necessitate an innovative approach to backup power that could improve resilience among vulnerable individuals that are most affected by the impacts of power outages. This report outlines opportunities to integrate reliable, clean energy backup power into public and community health.”

Clean Energy Group will be hosting a free webinar on June 27 to discuss the findings of the report.