Disaster Preparedness: Questions to Ask Nursing Homes

When a few historic heat waves pushed temperatures in the Pacific Northwest to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in June, Providence Mount St. Vincent, a large senior residential facility in Seattle, was prepared.

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Most of the rooms and common areas of the “Mount”, as the three buildings are called, are not air conditioned. Staff at The Mount borrowed a handful of large commercial-grade air conditioning units from a nearby hospital. They are both part of a regional network of health facilities that support each other in emergencies. The air conditioners cooled the common areas. Staff members used the cafeteria, one of the few spaces with central air conditioning, as a cooling and hydration center, encouraging heat-affected residents to spend time there and drink water.

To keep brick buildings cool, the cafeteria switched to a cold menu, so workers didn’t have to use ovens. When a staff member alerted a community blog that some Mount residents might be using small portable air conditioning units and fans; residents of the area responded with dozens of contributions.

The response – which is part of The Mount’s emergency preparedness plan – worked. No resident suffered severe heat effects and none required relocation to other facilities.

How emergency preparedness plans are created

“While it might not be the first thing consumers think of when considering a qualified nursing home for their loved ones, emergency preparedness plans are more important than ever, especially with climate change. creating more extreme weather events like the flooding we’ve seen recently, ”says Laura Van Eperen, CEO of FOVNDRY, a strategic communications and advisory firm based in Rockville, Maryland. The company works with several communities of seniors.

Nursing homes (and the 16 other types of health care providers and providers, such as critical access hospitals, hospices, and residential psychiatric facilities) that participate in Medicare and Medicaid must adhere to the guidelines of the federal government. emergency preparedness rulesays Courtney Bishnoi, vice president of quality and programs at the American Health Care Association and the Washington, DC-based National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA / NCAL) The rule requires these facilities to develop plans adhering to an “all hazards approach” that includes natural, human and technological events, according to AHCA / NCAL.

Examples that would go into “man-made” emergencies include:

  • Equipment failures.
  • Interruptions in communications, including cyber attacks.
  • The loss of part or all of a building, for example as a result of collapse or partial collapse.

  • Flu.
  • Ebola.
  • Zika virus.

“It’s critical to have a plan in place for emergencies,” said US Representative Bill Pascrell, a Democrat from New Jersey who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee on Oversight. “When the next tragedy or contagion strikes, we cannot be caught off guard.”

Evaluate a nursing home plan

Keep in mind that nursing homes must meet federal and state requirements. To see how a facility behaves with state regulatory bodies, check with the state department that oversees the licensing of nursing homes. In Washington State, for example, it is the Department of Health and Social Services.

Many nursing homes follow the federal government’s emergency preparedness checklist when developing their plans, ensuring that the strategy is tailored to the needs of the facility. These preparations are usually led by the administrator of the nursing home, but they are collaborative efforts that include staff from all parts of the facility.

For example, at The Mount, the Disaster Preparedness and Safety Committee, which is made up of staff from all parts of the facility, conducts a comprehensive annual review of the emergency plan. The committee also meets once a month to deal with ongoing safety issues.

Contributors to nursing home emergency preparedness plans may include workers from:

  • Education and formation.
  • Environmental services.
  • Food services.
  • Housekeeping.
  • THIS.
  • Feeding with milk.
  • Recreation.
  • Coaching.

Many nursing homes – like the Mount – incorporate membership in regional and local health care networks as part of their emergency preparedness plans. Long-term care facilities must review and update their plans annually. They must be able to show their updates annually to federal centers for Medicaid and Medicare services and generally to state authorities.

Types of emergencies requiring a plan

It is also pro forma for retirement homes to conduct periodic emergency preparedness exercises. For example, Mount personnel have conducted evacuation drills for scenarios such as earthquakes and compromised or collapsed buildings, says Charlene Boyd is the administrator of Providence Mount St. Vincent. Boyd reviews and approves Mt.’s emergency preparedness plan, including a very detailed evacuation strategy.

Nursing home administrators also plan for emergencies, such as heavy snowstorms, which can make it difficult for staff members to reach the nursing home.

Emergencies that nursing home officials prepare for include:

  • Compromised or collapsed buildings.
  • Cyber ​​attacks.
  • Water supply or water supply disturbed.
  • Earthquake.
  • Fires.
  • Snowstorms.
  • Hurricanes.
  • Pandemics.
  • Power outages.

What to look for in an emergency preparedness plan

Whether you’re considering a nursing home for a loved one or for yourself, it’s important to know what to look for in an emergency preparedness plan, Boyd says.

1. Can I see the plan?
Request a copy of the emergency preparedness plan, Boyd says. The plan should provide specific response strategies for different emergency scenarios. It should also include a plan for nursing home staff to communicate with family members and other loved ones during the state of emergency.

The plan will also usually include information about the training exercises that staff have conducted. Ask to speak to a member of the safety committee and read the committee meeting minutes. Security committee meetings could reveal the security issues that were discussed and the actions decided by the panel to resolve those issues.

2. What do fire inspection reports say?
Typically, state and local fire service authorities will perform annual inspections and document any potential safety concerns. They check things like evacuation, closing and tightness of fire doors and check the condition of emergency equipment, such as fire extinguishers.

These reports are public. Some retirement homes have them on hand and you have the right to see them. If the facility does not have such reports, consumers can obtain these reports from the state entity that authorizes nursing homes.

3. Does the facility have community partnerships with other health care facilities and first responders, such as the fire department?
Being part of a local or regional network of health care providers is an important part of an emergency preparedness plan. Partners in these coalitions can support each other by providing equipment, personnel and, if necessary, space to transfer evacuated residents.

4. In case of emergency, what is the communication plan? Residents and family members should educate themselves about the facility’s communication methods in the event of an emergency, Bishnoi said.

“It is important for consumers to understand that nursing home staff can only communicate with a designated representative for each resident regarding their specific condition due to health confidentiality concerns. crisis, work together as a family unit to get the latest information from the nursing home about your loved one.The facility can also provide general updates through broader communication channels, such as the media. social networks or an email distribution list. Work with the establishment in advance to sign up for their alerts. “

COVID-19 pandemic and extreme weather events across the country highlight importance of learning a nursing home’s emergency preparedness plan, says Dr. Jennifer Attmore, geriatric medicine specialist at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano in Plano, Texas. She is also a member of Texas Health Adult Care, a practice of the Texas Health Physicians Group.

“As we’ve learned with COVID-19, the unexpected can be a very real threat,” Attmore said.


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