Medical Care in Disaster-hit Areas: Take All Possible Measures to Support Elderly Evacuees

In areas affected by the Noto Peninsula Earthquake, the medical system is still in a precarious state. The key challenge is how to rebuild the local medical system, which has been severely damaged.

In the northern part of the Noto Peninsula, which was hit particularly hard, core hospitals in the cities of Wajima and Suzu in Ishikawa Prefecture were damaged. Many nurses are unable to report to work due to damage to roads and their homes, resulting in a significant loss of hospital functions.

Many inpatients, including those who regularly receive dialysis, had to be transferred to hospitals in Kanazawa and other cities. It is important to ensure that they receive appropriate treatment for their medical conditions at the hospitals where they have been taken in.

Even as hospitals affected by the disaster suffer from a lack of manpower, they are also dealing with patients who have caught COVID-19 or influenza at evacuation centers and other locations. The number of patients with infectious diseases is feared to increase further, and there is an urgent need to secure personnel to support medical service.

Some nurses have been forced to evacuate to other prefectures with their children, and many nurses have resigned. The central and local governments should consider dispatching nurses and other support staff from other regions to hospitals in need of manpower.

Hospitals that have accepted patients on transfer are also in a difficult situation. The National Hospital Organization Kanazawa Medical Center has accepted more than 100 patients by hurriedly bringing in beds to vacant wards. The hospital’s beds are almost fully occupied and normal medical care is being affected, including surgeries being postponed.

In winter, there are many emergency patients, such as those who have had heart attacks. If it becomes difficult for hospitals to accept emergency patients due to a shortage of beds, it will be a serious situation for ordinary patients as well.

It is also essential to secure facilities where patients who were transferred from the affected areas can safely stay once their condition stabilizes and they are discharged from the hospital.

Facilities that provide home medical care, such as visiting nursing stations, were also affected by the disaster, and in some cases adequate care cannot be provided to patients remaining at home with intractable diseases or disabilities. Unlike hospitals and evacuation shelters, these facilities do not receive much attention and have trouble getting support.

Many facilities for the elderly and the disabled have also been severely damaged, and the number of staffers who can work as usual has been drastically reduced, forcing residents to be relocated to faraway places.

If this situation continues, such facilities will not be able to support their local communities, which are rapidly aging. The question of how to rebuild the services provided by elderly care facilities and home nursing services should be considered from now.

The central and local governments must first hurry to restore lifelines, including running water. All possible measures should be made so that elderly people, both in and outside the affected areas, can return to a peaceful life in the hometowns that are so familiar to them.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 29, 2024)