While devastating beyond expectations, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were not surprises to the residents of Texas and Florida, respectively. But even with advanced warning for these storms, residents of several licensed nursing homes and assisted living facilities found themselves in life-threatening circumstances that were, in fact, avoidable.
Using these and other incidents as examples, Shawn Gillen, DFD Architects, Inc., and Fred Worley, Fred Worley Architect, who co-hosted “Emergency Planning in Long Term Care Facilities – Advanced Warning Doesn’t Ensure Safety” at NFPA’s Conference and Expo in Las Vegas this past June, addressed the critical importance of advanced planning and preparation in the event of an emergency at long-term care facilities.
Gillen and Worley strongly encouraged facility managers to identify the hazards that are most likely to occur in their communities, and to prepare for them first. Gillen reinforced the importance of writing out a plan (not just discussing it), as well as maintaining ongoing communications with staff at all levels to ensure that they’re well aware of the facility’s emergency plans, and to encourage their insights and feedback. Continued re-evaluation of the plan as hazards and circumstances evolve and change is also critical, as is regular training.
In addition, both speakers addressed the determining factors that help assess whether it’s safer to shelter in place or evacuate residents. In the event of sheltering in place, back-up systems for heating and cooling systems are needed, as is generator back-up to ensure that those systems can function. They also pointed out that while evacuation is a serious endeavor, it’s not always a last resort, and may in fact be the safer option in some situations.
In planning for an evacuation, facility managers need to determine where residents and staff will go; how they’ll track and account for them; how they’ll track their records and medications; and how medications will be administered. For people on IVs, oxygen or are incontinent, managers need to figure out how these needs will be taken care of not only at the sheltering location, but in transit from the nursing home to the shelter.
Lastly, the speakers discussed recovery after an emergency, pointing to NFPA 1600®, Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity/Continuity of Operations Programs as a resource for managing those efforts.
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