What Happens To Dad When the Storm Hits?

Without succumbing to apocalyptic alarmism or joining the ranks of the most extreme preppers, let us consider the probability that we are in for some more wild weather this spring and summer.  We’ve had mudslides, wildfires, floods and tornadoes already,  and the heat and volatility of summer usually generate even more dramatic and severe weather events.   So we ask you this.  Have you an elderly parent or other family member or loved one in a nursing home?  And is that facility properly prepared for a natural disaster?  Are you sure?

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) just released a report on precisely this subject, and found the answer to be, more often than not, solidly: “No”.  Not that this lack of preparedness is obvious or even a sign of bad intentions on the facility’s part.  Fully 92 percent of nursing homes in this country comply with the government’s emergency planning regulations.  These regulations, however, set out guidelines that federal investigators found to be way too vague, way too open to loose interpretations.

To make matters even worse, the regulations themselves contain very little detailed information on how to design and effect a sound emergency plan.  Here’s what they found when reviewing a sample of 24 nursing home emergency preparedness plans:

  • 23 (that’s all but 1) completely failed to outline how to respond to the sudden illness or death of a resident while undergoing an evacuation.
  • 7 left no instructions for how to label and identify residents during an evacuation; 15 had no process for preserving a patient’s list of medications.
  • Even when a resident’s medications were known, 22 emergency plans had no provision for how those prescriptions and medications would be transported in the event of an evacuation.

We all remember what happened in New Orleans during Katrina.  Panic does not bring out our best.  And we have to  keep in mind that workers and staff members in care facilities have homes and families of their own, homes and families that are likely to be in harm’s way as well.  These workers are bound to be frantic with worry and distracted.  The only way to keep everyone on track in the event of an evacuation emergency is with clear, specific and often-practiced procedures.  As the federal investigators learned during their study, many key safety areas are overlooked by even the very best facilities.  Often, things as basic as access to clean water and food are neglected during emergencies.  And some long-term care managers admitted to losing track of their residents during previous disasters — briefly, perhaps, but it still happened.

So what does all this mean?  Of course, new regulations for emergency and disaster preparedness will be forthcoming.  Nursing home staffs across the country will do their best to put them in place.  But these regulations are many months away from implementation — what do we do about this summer?

As caregivers, we’ve got to check and re-check, and ask questions — lots of questions.   Just what goes on during an emergency at the facility where gran stays?  What happened there during the last major snowstorm and power failure, when all the roads were closed, or when the terrible floods hit in 2006?  Where did the hurricane evacuees go last September?  Who stayed on with the residents when the tornadoes threatened ten counties during that terrible outbreak in March, when the local college campus was torn apart and all nearby medical personnel was called to the scene?  Who’s in charge and are they up to the task?

Tomorrow we will go over some other good questions to ask about any long-term care facility‘s disaster plan.  The more we know, the better we can prepare and prevent.  And once again,  prevention is always, always, always better than after-the-fact cure.  And this is not witching-hunting, by the way: just taking care of making sure.

Special thanks to Anne-Marie Botek and Marlo Sollitto, of


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