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What Happens In Nursing Homes During A Natural Disaster?

December 14, 2021
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It’s hard to think about your senior loved one living in a residential facility that might be unsafe or unprepared for natural or man-made disasters. Yet many seniors live in communities that just don’t have the capabilities of dealing with natural disaster, even though they follow governmental rules and regulations. The most recent example of the failure of the current safety protocols found in nursing homes can be seen in the story of the Hollywood Hills, Florida facility which lost eleven residents during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. This community had appropriate backup power to accommodate medical treatment but it was not connected to the air conditioning system, leaving seniors in sweltering heat for four days after the storm had passed.

Incidents like this happen due to vague wording and lackadaisical following of regulations at many nursing homes across the country. According to Kaiser Health News, more than 2,000 facilities had been cited for violating emergency preparedness regulations between 2015-2017. Many more have followed regulations to the best of their abilities but still remain terribly unprepared for natural disasters.

The United States Regulatory Assistance

After the deaths of two hundred seniors during Hurricane Katrina, the government has stepped up to create departments specifically designed to coordinate care for elderly residents during a natural disaster; agencies such as the Federal Department of Health & Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have all provided residential facilities with information and support to help communities implement emergency preparedness plans and accountability records.

Doing, Not Saying

While helping nursing home administrators to set up emergency preparedness plans can ensure that your senior’s caretakers have a plan to follow in the case of an emergency, there is nothing more important than implementing the plan before they need to. An emergency plan might address concerns such as backup power equipment, medical deliveries and continuance of treatment, staffing protocols and the availability of emergency supplies, simply having the information on paper doesn’t mean staff and seniors will know what to do in the case of an actual disaster.

Practicing And Learning: Drilling Preparedness Into The Routine Of Senior Living

There are ways to ensure that your senior loved one is safe during a natural disaster. One way is to ask the administration staff to show you their emergency preparedness plans. Ask how often they practice evacuation procedures or run through scenarios in the case of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, or wildfires. An emergency preparedness plan is only as good as its success during implementation.

Questions To Ask Your Nursing Home Caretakers On Your Next Visit

Besides talking to the nursing home administrator regarding their preparedness, you should take some time to talk to your loved one and his caretaker. Ask them how comfortable they are in following an evacuation or safety procedure in the event of a natural disaster. If your loved one doesn’t know what he would do if the building was under a hurricane or tornado warning, chances are he hasn’t practiced any sort of plan. This lack of confidence in knowing what to do could be dangerous and should be addressed quickly. Here are some questions you could ask the leadership of the community to ensure the safety of your loved one.

  1. Do you have a plan in place to move seniors who must remain in their hospital beds? Are all doorways sized according to modern regulations?
  2. Do you have a plan in place for transporting seniors safely away from the facility? How many buses or transport vehicles do you have for such an event?
  3. Do you always have enough staff on hand to get all seniors out of the building quickly and safely in the event of an emergency?
  4. Are both caretakers and seniors aware of the plan of action in the event of flooding, hurricane or another natural disaster?
  5. Do you have a backup generator for all systems in the building that will last at least 96 hours?

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Many of us turn to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and group homes to provide care for our elderly loved ones.

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