Investigators with the inspector general’s office of the Health and Human Services Department have discovered that Nursing homes are ill prepared to protect their frail residents during a natural disaster. The investigation examined the number of nursing homes that met or exceeded federal emergency planning and training regulations on paper, and then went into the field to visit a sampling of 24 out of 210 facilities that had been affected by natural disasters across seven states between 2007 and 2010. The homes examined were located in California, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas, all of which had been hit with disasters. Fourteen had actually evacuated and ten remained sheltered in the facility.
While 92% of the nursing homes across the nation met federal standards for emergency planning and 72% met them for emergency training on paper, the on-site investigation revealed just the opposite. Some examples of the disturbing findings are as follows:
- None of the homes met the government recommendation for a seven day supply of drinking water if residents had to shelter in place and their regular source was unsafe or unavailable.
- 22 homes had no backup plan to replace staff members who were unable to get to work during the disaster.
- All but one of the plans failed to describe how to handle a resident’s illness or death during an evacuation.
- 15 had no information about the individual medical needs of residents, such as feeding tubes or breathing equipment.
- 7 of the plans had provision about how to identify residents in an evacuation, such as wristbands.
- 15 had no provisions for matching medication lists with the residents.
- 22 had no provision for how the home would transport resident medications.
- 19 had no plan for transporting wheelchairs.
- None of the homes had a plan for the delivery of food and water for evacuated residents.
- 14 had no plan for coordinating with local emergency authorities to determine if they should evacuate or shelter in place.
Nationally, more than 3 million people spent at least some time in a nursing home during 2009, according to the latest available data. Nearly 40 percent of them, 1.2 million, were in the top 10 disaster-prone states, Texas, California, Oklahoma, New York, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Missouri. During Hurricane Katrina, the vulnerability of nursing home residents was front page news when 35 residents of St. Rita’s Nursing Home died in their beds, some from drowning.
Although Indiana is not considered to be a disaster prone state, in March 2, 2012 six rural southern Indiana counties were devastated by severe weather and tornadoes, killing 13 people. The National Weather Service said that one of the tornadoes, in Jefferson County, was an EF-4 with winds of around 200 miles per hour, one notch below the strongest rating. Disaster evacuations of nursing homes are an onerous task, even utilizing the best designed evacuation plans, because staff and local authorities are dealing with confused, disoriented and elderly patients who lack mobility. Under the best of circumstances injuries are bound to occur, including spinal cord injuries and even death. If you, your family or a friend have had a loved one injured during a disaster evacuation of a nursing home, it would be a good idea to speak with a reputable personal injury attorney.
Big gaps found in nursing homes’ disaster plans, San Francisco Chronicle, Article by Ricardo Alonzo- Zaldivar, April 15, 2012