Be Prepared

I remember when, as the world's chubbiest Boy Scout (before the growth spurt), I would slowly raise three fingers of my right hand and solemnly assert the Boy Scout Motto: Be Prepared. Of course, it was all I could do just to get my 12-year-old self together enough to meet the day's minimum requirements, but still, I got the point: In confronting life's vicissitudes, it's always best to lead with your brain.

That thought occurs as we enter another season of natural disasters-or, to put it more accurately, the normal run of tornadoes, fires, and floods plus today's monster hurricanes. It's to be hoped that long-term care facilities have taken that age-old motto to heart. One thing the horrors of Hurricane Katrina taught us is that terrible things happen to good people, no matter how much we wish it otherwise-and it's even worse when the "good people" happen to be helpless not only against nature's onslaught, but against the normal challenges of life-the residents who are in long-term care's charge.

Recognizing that we are once again at that worrisome time of the year, this issue of Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management includes two articles on disaster preparedness. One, from journalist and onetime government disaster planner Josh Nathan, tells of specific precautions individual facilities can take, from communication resources to food storage to medicine. The second article, from Marianna Kern Grachek of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, takes a more "macro" view of the issue, addressing how facilities can coordinate their plans with helping and emergency resources in the community, including transportation and police, and offering Joint Commission resources designed to expedite this. While the two authors' perspectives differ, you'll find that both offer a common warning: At the outset of a disaster, expect to be on your own for some period of time before any sort of help arrives. You may have to rely completely on your own resources and ingenuity to cope with a social meltdown.

That is a disturbing thought for those of us who like to assume that we are basically safe or in line to receive help expeditiously when we're not. But let's face it: Even for those long-term care professionals who bear responsibility for the weakest and most vulnerable of our citizens, this may not be so.

Consider this as you evaluate your facility's ability to weather a catastrophe. Admittedly, this isn't much fun to do during the delightful early days of spring. We can still have fun-we just have to take care of some business first. Tempting though it may be to write this off as yet another of those good ideas that can't be supported with available resources, that time-tested and often valid excuse won't wash for this issue. One way or another, we have to find a way.

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