Natural disasters can happen anywhere at any time. While flooding has been this year’s main theme, for one nursing home in Pennsylvania, a tornado was the villain of early autumn. On October 2, an EF-2 tornado blasted its way through Conneautville bringing rain and winds in excess of 100 miles per hour. It tore through the landscape ripping the roof off of buildings and downing trees.
Rolling Fields Elder Care Community residents were in the middle of a typical Tuesday afternoon when the 50-yard-wide tornado barreled across the open landscape. With little warning, it hit the community and tore the roof off in areas, destroying many of the facility’s residential rooms and leaving 162 residents homeless. Fortunately, no one was injured in the storm and the residents were evacuated to an area middle school.
The Conneautville tornado speaks of the necessity for nursing homes to have safety and evacuation procedures in place. Undoubtedly, the administrators and staff of Rolling Fields followed an emergency protocol both during and after the tornado that kept the residents and caretakers from being injured during the event. This isn’t always the case. The news is riddled with stories of nursing home residents who were not so prepared, and the ending to the story was not quite as happy.
How do you know if your loved one is living in a nursing home that is prepared for natural disasters and other emergencies? The most logical way is to ask the administrator if the residents have safety procedures in place. But this won’t always get you the truth. There are other ways to ensure that your loved one is going to be cared for during an emergency:
- Ask to see the written version of the emergency procedures for the community. A well-prepared facility will have a handbook or guide available within reach for the family of residents to study. In addition, as of November 2017, long-term care facilities are required to have emergency and disaster preparedness plans in place.
- Ask the caretakers or other residents (including your own parent or loved one) what they would do in the case of an emergency. Do they take part in a regular tornado, fire or other safety drills?
- Make an appointment to observe during a drill. Most nursing homes have regular monthly drills to ensure that their residents know what to do in the case of an emergency.
Don’t allow administrators to give you the “brush-off” when you ask about safety. If the only thing a nursing home administrator says is “don’t worry, we’ll take care of him/her,” ask specific questions that make them accountable for the information they’re providing.
What If I’m Not Happy With Their Safety Protocol?
Unfortunately, not all nursing homes have an emergency plan, or they don’t practice the plan regularly. What if your loved one’s community is in that group? Should you go to the state’s Department of Aging and report them for failing to provide a safety procedure for their residents? Of course, if the administrator has no emergency plan at all. What if they have a plan but your loved one doesn’t seem to know about it? Talk with the administrator and your loved one’s caretaker to see if there may be a continuity problem with the information. Many nursing homes conduct monthly drills without really telling the seniors why they’re practicing the drill.
Your loved one deserves to live in a community that is enriching, safe and well-prepared for the unexpected. If you’re unhappy with the procedures that a community has in place, be proactive, suggest changes that could make the process better for all involved.