Nursing Homes Unprepared For Natural Disasters, Senate Report Warns

Many nursing homes nationwide are not properly prepared to deal with natural disasters – such as hurricanes, flooding and other events – according to a new report by Senate Democrats. 

Minority staff of the Senate Finance Committee released findings this week in a report, Sheltering In Danger (PDF), which looks at the risks faced by residents of nursing homes that decide not to evacuate in times of natural disaster, but instead try to batten down and ride out the event; a practice known as sheltering in place.

The investigative report came in the wake of last year’s hurricanes Harvey and Irma. One Florida nursing home caught in Irma had 12 residents die from complication from heat exposure after it lost air conditioning for several days. The nursing home deaths were ruled a homicide, due to the negligence of the nursing home employees and management.

The report also looked at incidents in Texas following Hurricane Harvey, which led to flooding. Many nursing homes conducted “chaotic mid-storm evacuations,” which put nursing home residents at risk.

“The Minority staff of the Senate Finance Committee investigated these incidents and found they were not random failures,” the report states. “They resulted from inadequate regulation and oversight, ineffective planning and communications protocols, and questionable decision-making by facility administrators.”

The report looks at the failings of the current system and makes a number of recommendations, calling for more federal intervention and regulations to protect elderly residents from nursing home neglect.

The study found that nursing homes were often not properly equipped to keep residents safe during natural disasters where they may lose power or face flooding. The staff also found that emergency response plans were often not adequately reviewed by regulatory agencies, federal temperature control rules are outdated and not based on science, and that power restoration priorities in some communities did not take into account at-risk populations.

The report makes 18 recommendations, which include revising the ‘safe and comfortable” temperature standard for nursing homes, better coordination with electricity providers, effective reviews of emergency plans, and better definition of mandatory evacuation orders.

“While this report focuses on the dangers presented by hurricanes, the findings and recommendations can be applied to other natural disasters,” the report states. “The bottom line is that families should have confidence that their loved ones will be safe in nursing homes, assisted care facilities and other long-term-care settings, no matter what emergency a facility faces.”

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