If nothing else, 2017 has taught senior care providers the importance of being prepared for anything—and not just on paper. The deep south and Puerto Rico suffered structural damage, excessive flooding and long-term evacuations thanks to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which occurred within weeks of each other. Unbelievably, some parts of Louisiana and Mississippi were smacked by wind damage and flooding from both Harvey and Irma two weeks apart—a double whammy that has set back recovery for months.
Hurricane Harvey dumped record-breaking rains, flooding parts of Texas for weeks—including all the escape routes. Fourteen long-term care residents in Florida survived Hurricane Irma only to perish days later from the sweltering heat as their facility’s air conditioning system sat inoperable from the power outages.
Meanwhile, record heat and fierce Santa Ana winds set most of the Pacific Northwest and western states on fire. The quickly changing fires had senior care communities in Sonoma County, California, on edge for most of October, ready to enact evacuation plans if the fire lines blew their way.
One way or another, senior living organizations got a year-long reminder in the importance of solid emergency planning. That means being ready for anything, anywhere, any time. The three biggest disaster planning lessons of 2017:
• No one can ever say, “That sort of thing wouldn’t happen here.” Just ask the tiny Ohio town whose new police chief and two local nursing home employees were killed by a gunman. Or, the people who had hundreds of bullets rain down on them while they attended a country music concert in Las Vegas.
• Administrators, staff and even residents need drill-based training on what to do in an emergency. It’s not just about telling staff where to take residents if the local tornado siren sounds. Practice, practice, practice. Able-bodied residents can feel empowered by participating in emergency drills and learning the emergency procedures. Non-mobile residents will be confident that the staff is prepared and in control.
• As many facilities learned the hard way: Three days of food, water and medical supplies isn’t enough to qualify as “prepared.” Organizations that choose to shelter in place better have enough resources to serve residents safely and completely for far more than the usual week, just in case that crisis isn’t the only one you’ll see that month.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has been working on more detailed policies for long-term care emergency preparedness for several years, including requirements for an “all hazards” approach to emergency planning, deeper site risk assessments, better coordination and alternate power sources (i.e., generators) that can operate air conditioning and heating systems to maintain safe temperatures even during extended power outages.
The new CMS regs finally go into effect this month. But, Mother Nature, criminals and circumstance have already demonstrated why it’s necessary to be ready for anything.