Seniors + Safety

By on Sep 2, 2017 in News

Viral photo of flooded assisted-living facility  in Houston demonstrates importance of disaster preparedness for senior living communities.

With so many heartbreaking images of the devastation visited upon Houston by Hurricane Harvey, the photo of residents of the La Vita Bella assisted-living center in Dickinsseniors-lavitabellaon stands out. The photo, which depicts several seniors submerged in murky, waist-high flood waters, triggered outrage after gaining widespread attention on Twitter and other social media outlets.

By Sunday afternoon, an evacuation was underway, with all the eventually relocated to a nearby nursing home. With a new photo of the now safe and dry residents now making the rounds online, questions still linger regarding the delay in emergency services, with some of the resident’s family members telling CNN they were forced to post the photo on Twitter in an attempt to trigger a rescue effort.

“They were basically told no one was coming because they couldn’t reach them,” Kim McIntosh, mother of resident Trudy Lampson, told CNN. “That’s when we decided to go ahead and tweet the photos.”

Preparing For Disaster

While the situation at La Vita Bella is, hopefully, an extreme example, the catastrophe triggered by Hurricane Harvey serves as yet another reminder of the importance of disaster preparedness.

As Jay Shelton, Senior Vice President, at Assurance Risk Management, writes in a December 2015 issue of Senior Housing Business, “The best time to write one of these plans is, frankly, yesterday.”

“Without prior planning, you leave your organization open to financial disaster,” he continues, “especially if you are forced to close operations for a period of time. In addition, without a proper plan to cope with a disaster, your facility may face lawsuits from vendors, employees or residents’ families claiming negligence.”

Prioritize and Delegate

When developing an emergency preparedness strategy, it helps to give priority to the tasks staff will perform before, during and after the crisis. It is also important to decide when and how to notify family members about the impending emergency. In addition, employees and residents should be trained in safety procedures with regular drills on the facilities emergency protocols.

Once catastrophe strikes, it’s often too late to assign duties and delegate responsibilities. During your planning process, make sure every member of your team is aware of their obligations and capable of performing whatever tasks they may be assigned.

When creating a checklist for staff, make sure duties are clear, and all employees are up-to-date on first aid and CPR training. If possible, train staff to help assist medical personnel by retrieving equipment like wheelchairs or oxygen tanks or providing other support.

Write, Post and Publicize

It’s a good idea to keep hard copies of your emergency procedures in a location that is readily available to staff and residents. Your written procedures should include contact information for employees and administrators along with a chain of command to determine decision-making authority.

“It’s not enough to just discuss a plan,” warns Shelton. “When faced with a disaster, things get emotional and hectic. It’s important to put a plan in writing, agree on it, and then communicate the plan among the leadership team, administrators and staff, as well as residents and their families.”

Checklists, Training and Drills

Federal regulations state that facilities must “train all employees in emergency procedures when they begin to work in the facility, periodically review the procedures with existing staff, and carry out unannounced staff drills using those procedures .”

The time for making important decisions about the care and safety of your residents is before the winds pick up and the power goes out. For onsite staff, including nurses and facilities managers, regular training and practice drills can not only make it easier to act during an emergency but can also bring up any areas of concern or gaps in care before they crop up during a crisis.

It’s also important to work with local authorities and coordinate with the surrounding community. Arrange a time to meet with police, fire department and hospital to discuss how your facility should communicate with these agencies during an emergency.

Relocation and Evacuation

One nerve-wracking decision many facility administrators face during an emergency is whether to keep residents on site, or begin evacuations. When both options appear equally risky, it helps to take stock of the current locale and determine whether you have the necessary resources to provide adequate care for your residents.

Make sure the facility’s security has not been compromised, and that backup power supplies are functioning properly. Review supplies, inventory medications, and make an account of all medical equipment. Survey staff to ensure you have enough hands on deck to meet all resident needs. Finally, consult with local agencies, including fire and police, to determine whether it is safer to stay or go.

In some cases, the safest course of action is to transport residents and staff to another location. It is essential to establish in advance how relocation will be coordinated. Prioritize resident evacuation so that those with special needs can receive adequate medical attention during the move. Keep your list of resettlement sites regularly updated, including transportation routes and contact information for ambulance and security services.

Keeping Contact

It’s always a good idea to make the residents and their family aware of your safety procedures so that during times of crisis everyone understands what’s happening and how to make contact or gather additional information about residents.

Mitigate risks and avoid confusing by keeping your residents informed on procedures and emergency information. Make contact information readily available, and clearly mark all exits, evacuation routes, and emergency gathering spots. Schedule regular meetings to go over emergency procedures and encourage residents to ask questions and voice concerns.

Preparing for the Unexpected

For retirement communities and senior living facilities, storms, earthquakes and other natural and manmade hazards are not just problematic; they can be traumatic and deadly. Thankfully, procedures and protocols planned well in advance of a particular event due to licensing guidelines and applicable laws and guidelines ensure the safety and security of staff and residents. After all, federal regulations require Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes to have “detailed written plans and procedures to meet all potential calamities such as fire, severe weather, and missing residents.”

Because many residents in nursing homes are dependent on life-saving equipment or have special care needs, many administrative and clinical directors are pushing beyond the bare minimum to create detailed, practiced, guidelines designed to keep everyone safe during Mother Nature’s latest temper tantrum. Perhaps most importantly, by preparing for the worst, senior living providers are better able to deal with the unexpected.

“No matter how well-prepared you may be for a disaster, the situation will be infinitely more complicated by the nature of assisted living conditions,” explains Shelton.

“The most important thing to do during a disaster is to remain flexible, even when following a plan. Understanding the nature of your plan and the disaster at hand will help all communities work through a disaster.”

*Some of this content previously appeared on The Balance Sheet.