Objectives: Few empirical studies have examined the disaster preparedness and response practices of individuals with spinal cord injuries and/or disorders (SCI/D) and the healthcare providers who serve them. This study was conducted to understand the experiences of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) providers and Veterans with SCI/D in recent natural disasters, and to identify lessons learned for disaster preparedness and response in the context of SCI/D.
Design: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with providers and Veterans recruited through seven VHA facilities that had sustained a disaster since 2003. Audio recordings of the interviews were transcribed; transcripts were analyzed using constant comparative techniques.
Results: Forty participants completed an interview, including 21 VHA SCI/D providers and 19 Veterans with SCI/D. Disasters experienced by participants were weather related. While many Veterans were evacuated or admitted to nearby VHA facilities, others chose to stay in their communities. All facilities had formal disaster plans and engaged in related training; however, participants explained that many aspects of a response take shape 'in the moment,' and must address both provider and Veteran needs. Dispersion of resources hindered well-coordinated care, but effective communication, teamwork, advanced warnings, and VHA's electronic medical record facilitated efforts.
Conclusions: Even in the case of thorough planning, Veterans with SCI/D and their healthcare providers are faced with pressing needs during disasters, and identifying strategies to coordinate care is critical. The lessons learned are intended to inform the efforts of healthcare providers who may be involved in the care of individuals with SCI/D in future disasters.