Report: Nursing homes unprepared for natural disasters

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SUMMARY:  Tornado, hurricane, or flood, nursing homes are woefully unprepared to protect frail residents in a natural disaster.  Investigators from the inspector general’s office of the Department of Health and Human Services noted that nearly 7 years after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation exposed the vulnerability of nursing homes, shortcomings still persist. Emergency plans required by the government often lack specific steps such as coordinating with local authorities, notifying relatives, or even pinning name tags and medication lists to residents during an evacuation, according to findings. The report recommended that Medicare and Medicaid add specific emergency planning and training steps to the existing federal requirement that nursing homes have a disaster plan. Many such steps are in nonbinding federal guidelines but investigators found them disregarded.

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ANALYSIS by Oz Hill, Firestorm Principal

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Inspector General’s (IG), report which assessed that significant gaps exist in planning for emergencies at nursing homes throughout the United States, underscores the need for a federal mandate to enable the well-being of persons receiving care at these facilities. It is unfortunate, but true, the individuals who receive care in nursing homes often experience difficulty addressing their personal needs on a daily basis, and a disaster further complicates a demanding and potentially distressing care-giving scenario.

Policymakers and administrators at all echelons of government, as well as, nursing home industry thought leaders, should fully support the recommendation in the IG’s report that Medicare and Medicaid add specific emergency planning and training steps to existing federal requirements for nursing homes. Implementation of the requirements will enhance the standardization of disaster planning measures, and in a broader sense, the quality of life for those who receive care at these facilities, regardless of the nursing home’s size or patient care capabilities.

The HHS IG’s 44 page report confirms the perceptions of many Americans who have lost love ones who were receiving care in nursing home facilities that were not prepared when disasters occurred. NO, when the recommendations in the report are implemented it will not bring back any losses of life that can be attributed to the lack of disaster readiness at nursing home facilities; however, it will be the first of several key steps towards having a national standard that ensures a common level of readiness at nursing home facilities across the nation and it will save lives in the future. Key considerations after the implementation of the disaster planning requirements must include policy compliance/certification, monitoring, and enforcement; all of which must be inextricably linked to the licensing of these facilities.

The effective management of disasters at nursing homes and assisted living facilities requires the prudent investment of resources for disaster planning, preparation, coordination, training and life safety systems and equipment to ensure “continuity of care” is sustained during and after a disaster. Proactive planning and training processes are imperative to effectively mitigate the impact of man-made and natural disasters.

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