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Hurricane Irene tests healthcare disaster response plans

August 31, 2011
by the staff of Long-Term Living
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NYC long-term care providers rise to the occasion with Irene bearing down

Last weekend’s hurricane left in its turbulent wake dozens of healthcare facilities dealing with the aftermath of a massive evacuation effort. It left operators assessing the effectiveness of their disaster response protocols. And, it highlighted the stress that is placed on the surrounding community and local government to find refuge for a facility’s residents when protocols are inadequate or nonexistent.

When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg last Thursday ordered nursing homes and hospitals in the city’s Zone A low-lying areas to evacuate by the following evening in anticipation of Hurricane Irene, facilities scrambled to action.

Chris Gilbride, press secretary at the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM), says close to 10,000 people were moved from healthcare facilities before and during Hurricane Irene. Most residents of nursing homes and similar facilities in the designated unsafe zone were brought to other senior communities or hospitals. The OEM also sheltered an additional 10,000 of the city’s general population. Gilbride says this shelter system includes 509 school buildings that can provide cover to 605,000 people.


Hurricane Irene affected healthcare facilities up and down the east coast. LeadingAge shares on its website reports from members on how their communities were affected and includes member offers of space, equipment and other resources to assist those affected by the storm.

And, as a response to the many questions LeadingAge received on how the Minimum Data Set 3.0 deals with resident transfers during a natural disaster, it offers excerpts from Chapter 2 in the MDS 3.0 manual. Based on the manual and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, nursing homes are instructed to contact their CMS regional offices or Medicare contractors with any questions.

The American Health Care Association (AHCA) offers on its website a list of resources and educational materials to assist long-term care communities in disaster preparedness. It also offers current watches and advisories for the U.S. offered by the National Weather Service.

“Overall I think that we received overwhelmingly positive feedback,” Gilbride now says of OEM’s work during Irene. “It’s the first time in New York City history that this has been done.”


Metropolitan Jewish Health System (MJHS), operator of two oceanfront skilled nursing facilities, Menorah Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care and Shorefront Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care, evacuated more than 650 residents over eight hours, reports Malika Granville, public information officer. Residents were sent to facilities throughout New York’s five boroughs.

“We really maximized our relationships to have these facilities take all our patients,” says Granville. “We transported people according to their needs. Some were bedridden and some were higher functioning. Everyone was under pressure and it was daunting but we have a diligent staff and they worked up to the final hour to be sure [residents] were placed where they needed to be.”

MJHS had earlier worked with NYC’s OEM and the Greater New York Hospital Association to put an emergency plan in place. MJHS also posted an alert on its website with directions to help loved ones locate residents.

“We worked with the social workers to go over the care plans and to be the conduit between families that had questions,” says Granville. “It was all hands on deck—we even had people working on Saturday.”

As for assuring residents that they’d be well cared for, Granville says the most important thing was “helping people realize that we’re transporting them for their own safety. I think the overall sentiment was we don’t know what’s coming but we’re going to plan for the worst and hope for the best. That kept spirits high. You’d expect pandemonium but it worked.”