Nursing Homes Disaster Preparedness Plans Show Gaps

Senior safety during natural disasters is a topic we’ve blogged about before. Our elderly population is especially vulnerable during these times of high stress. A recently-released government report shows emergency plans in many nursing homes nationwide are distressfully unprepared to guard their senior residents from harm.

Using a sample of nursing homes that experienced floods, hurricanes, and wildfires during 2007–2010, the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services conducted a study to determine the quality of disaster preparedness plans They analyzed national survey data and conducted site visits to 24 selected nursing homes. Investigators interviewed nursing home administrators and staff, local emergency managers, and representatives from State Long Term Care ombudsman programs. What they found was cause for concern.

On paper, most of the nursing home fared well. 92% of the nursing homes met the Federal requirements for written emergency plans and disaster preparedness training. However, their findings also showed that:

  • On average, selected nursing homes’ emergency plans included about half of the CMS-recommended checklist tasks, and none included all of them.
  • Administrators from 17 of the 24 selected nursing homes reported substantial challenges in responding to disasters.
  • LTC ombudsmen were often unable to support nursing home residents during disasters.
The detailed study showed six areas of major concern: staffing; resident care; resident identification, information, and tracking; sheltering in place; evacuation; and communication and collaboration.

Concern over nursing home resident vulnerability came to light especially during Hurricane Katrina, when 35 residents of St. Rita's Nursing Home just outside New Orleans perished in the flooding.

The study includes recommendations to revise the specified requirements for emergency plans to protect residents during and after disasters. However, make sure disaster preparedness is a question on your checklist if you are looking into choosing a nursing home for your loved one.

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Comments (1) -

  • Well, I must say this is kind of frightening. Unfortunately, we had to put my mother-in-law in a nursing home fairly recently (she has severe dementia) and we live right in the tornado belt. It never occurred to me to ask if they have any kind of disaster plans evacuation in place. I always assumed that, like schools, nursing homes ran fire drills and the like. I am on the phone with them tomorrow, believe me! Thanks for keeping us posted--I have to say I look to this site to get my senior news!

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