by Linda J. Austin


I awoke to gray skies. The digital clock was dark. The power was off. Snow and ice covered leaves, branches, windowsills and power lines like snug winter mittens. The house was cold - the fires almost out. It's too early for snow I thought as I shoved a log into the wood stove. Thank goodness the telephone was not affected. I reported the outage. I thought about my last hospice case as I lit the propane stove to heat water for coffee (the electric pot of no use this morning).


A power outage can happen any time of the year and as caregivers we need to be prepared. Here are some things to do before the power goes off, and after the power goes off.

Before power goes off:

  • Create a contingency plan - Check with your nursing service, local hospital, ambulance service, insurance company and Red Cross to gather information for your plan. Things to consider:
    1. How long can the patient be comfortable without power?
    2. What equipment cannot be used without a power source (nebulizer, monitors, vaporizers, etc.)
    3. How long will it take an ambulance to get to your home? Many of our local ambulance services are volunteer - if that's the case where you are be sure to add in this extra time.
    4. Will the local hospital accept patients under these circumstances?
    5. Can you or a neighbor transport the patient to another person's home or to an emergency facility?
    6. Will insurance cover any of these costs?
  • Contact your local telephone and power companies - tell them there is a medical situation in your home. They may require a doctor's letter for verification. Most of the time they can just take the information over the phone.
  • Do not rely on the telephone and power companies to remember the medical status - when you call to report an outage remind them of the critical need.
  • If oxygen is in use there can be no open flame (no candles, no kerosene lamps) - make sure you have extra batteries and flashlights. A portable transistor radio (with extra batteries) is also a good idea.
  • If an electric oxygen concentrator is being used, make sure you have back up tanks of oxygen, all set up with tubing & canula.
  • Make sure extra blankets are easy to get to.
  • Keep a soft knit hat & socks handy for the patient.
  • Telephone - some telephones that are routed through an answering machine will not work during a power outage (will not even ring). Unplug the phone from the answering machine & plug the phone directly into the phone jack. Portable phones may not work well during a power outage and will not work at all once the batteries run down. Make sure there is a means of communication.
  • Kitchen supplies - manual can-opener; bottled water

After the power goes off:

  • Switch patient to tank oxygen
  • Reroute telephone plug if necessary
  • Report the power outage
  • If you are a visiting caregiver (friend), contact the primary caregiver and let them know what is going on.
  • Stay calm - emotions are contagious

When the power is restored:

  • Switch patient to concentrator
  • Reroute phone set up (if you changed things)
  • Call the primary caregiver

For Reprints and other information, please contact Linda J Austin, 48 Daniels Road, Norway, ME 04268.

Linda J. Austin writes from experience as a nursing assistance and a family caregiver. "When I was assigned my first hospice case, I found my place in life." Retired from several careers, Linda is studying creative art therapy.


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