Your Community in Dialogue: Nursing Homes/Elderly Care Facilities – Will Your Loved Ones Be Adequately Cared For During a Disaster or Emergency?


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The degree of neglect and abuse which has been attributed with far too many of our nation’s nursing homes is deeply troubling to say the least.  Neglected, abused, and threatened, nursing home residents may suffer physically and emotionally. Painful bedsores, broken bones, or even premature death can result from neglectful and outright abusive treatment.  Unfortunately, in many cases it seems a serious lack of emergency preparedness by these nursing home facilities may just be one more offense to add to the list.

Almost seven years ago, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina revealed the critical failures of nursing homes to provide adequate care and safe evacuation for their residents during a disaster or significant emergency.  35 elderly residents of the St. Rita Nursing Home alone, for instance, drowned during that horrific event.  According to a Houston Chronicle investigation, it was estimated that 139 nursing home residents died overall during that hurricane or in the immediately following aftermath.

The owners of St Rita’s were found innocent of negligent homicide and cruelty to the infirm in 2007, but have gone on to face more than 30 civil lawsuits from family members of those who needlessly perished. How were the owners found innocent of the criminal charges?  One juror indicated that he was directly swayed by the arguments of the defense which emphasized the government was largely to blame for the tragedy because of breached levees and the state’s failure to help evacuate nursing homes.

A recent government investigation of 210 nursing homes across seven states found that as a whole, such facilities are woefully unprepared in the face of hurricanes, floods or wildfires.  Amongst a litany of emergency preparedness shortfalls, a few standout.  For instance 19 of these homes had absolutely no plan whatsoever to transport their patients in the face of disaster threatening the facility.  To make that fact worse, 17 homes indicated that transportation contracts they did have in place to transport patients were not honored during an emergency evacuation.

Considering that in 2009, 3 million people spent time in a nursing home, there’s a good chance someone you know and love is a permanent or temporary resident of such an elderly care facility.  If so, there are questions about that facility’s emergency plans to which you need answers. Many residents of such homes lack mobility and are already in frail health, so failure to have adequate emergency plans could be a death sentence.

  1. What is the plan to notify family members of residents in case of an emergency or evacuation?
  2. How is the evacuation of residents conducted?  How are they transported?  Where are they transported to? How do you communicate with your loved ones under such circumstances?
  3. How does the facility manage the medication requirements of residents during an evacuation?
  4. What is the plan to coordinate with local authorities during a crisis?
  5. Does the nursing home’s emergency plans in any way rely upon external resources (such as local, state, or federal government) to facilitate the safe evacuation and care of residents during a disaster?  If so, to what degree and specifically which organization or agency is being relied upon? (similar questions need to then be asked of said organization or agency)
  6. If the facility relies on third-party contractors to provide transportation, has that third-party ever been put to the test during a live emergency?  How can you be assured that such third-party will fulfill its contractual obligations?
  7. When was the last emergency drill conducted by the elderly care facility?
  8. Is emergency evacuation covered in the contract that you signed with the facility for your loved one?
  9. Does the nursing home have a Shelter-In-Place capability?
  10. In the event of an extreme weather emergency can the facility sustain itself for at least 72 hours without endangering the health and welfare of the patients? Does the facility have back up power for HVAC and refrigeration of medications and food?

Ask the questions and make a real difference in the quality of care of your loved ones living in a nursing home or elderly care facility!

Facta non Verba

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