Pitt Public Health Researchers Look at Hurricane Sandy’s Impact on Access to Doctors

By: Cyndy McGrath

When you can almost instantly seek health care through an urgent care center or even your smartphone, it’s easy to take health care access for granted. But what if disaster made that difficult for weeks at a time?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health a $576,000 grant to study the impact of natural disasters upon access to primary health care.  Pitt Public Health researchers will team with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Bureau of Primary Care Access and Planning, to examine the impact of Superstorm Sandy on primary care in The Rockaways, in Queens, New York.
Pitt Public Health’s Margaret Potter,  J.D.,  associate dean and director of the Center for Public Health Practice, will lead the two-year project, which will examine Sandy’s impact on the capacity of  New York health care providers who are key to primary care in that region.  Primary care is offered at physicians’ offices, clinics, community health centers and other non-hospital sites. Researchers will determine whether or not residents used primary care services at pre-storm levels after the October 2012 storm and will recommend ways to reduce access problems during disaster recovery – including a new software interface that tracks the availability of needed services.
Ultimately, researchers anticipate they will be able to develop improved tools and processes for monitoring recovery and planning for future disasters that would potentially impact primary care access.
“We’ll be paying special attention to vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and poor, who may experience the greatest difficulty accessing primary health care services during disasters,” said Ms. Potter. “We will explore the use of computational methods to identify gaps in services during and after disasters and to support official decision-making about allocating limited resources.”