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Nursing Homes Have Weak Disaster Plans

April 23rd, 2012

Do you have an emergency preparedness plan for your home and family? Do you have an evacuation plan in the event you have to leave the area? Do you keep extra batteries for flashlights… a well-stocked first-aid kit… a supply of bottled water?  Well, the federal government requires that nursing homes have specific plans in place for how they plan to protect their sick, frail residents from natural disasters, such as tornados, hurricanes, floods, and fires. Sadly, inspectors have found that the plans are weak or nonexistent.

According to an article in the News & Observer, the department of Health and Human Services has been investigating emergency plans of of nursing homes ever since Hurricane Katrina seven years ago. Now, their report says that current plans lack relevant information, such as how to coordinate with local authorities, how to notify relatives, and how to keep track of residents’ medications. They recommend that Medicare and Medicaid add mandated specific planning and training steps to the current disaster plan requirements.

While nursing homes can easily pull out written disaster plans, the proof of true preparedness lies in how well the staff respond in an actual emergency. So inspectors dug a little deeper into the records of 24 selected nursing homes in California, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. All 24 facilities had been affected by a disaster, and 14 had evacuated. According to the N&O article:

Of the 24 emergency plans, 23 did not describe how to handle a resident’s illness or death during an evacuation. Also, 15 had no information about specific medical needs of patients, such as feeding tubes and breathing equipment. Seven plans were silent on how to identify residents in an evacuation, such as by attaching wristbands or name tags. Inspectors said 15 made no provision for including medication lists.
None of the nursing homes met a government recommendation for a seven-day supply of drinking water if residents had to shelter in place and their regular source of water was unsafe or unavailable.
Twenty-two had no backup plans to replace staff members unable to report for work during a disaster.
Transportation was an Achilles’ heel. None of the nursing homes had planned to ensure transportation of adequate food and water for evacuated residents, while 19 had no specific plan for transporting wheelchairs and similar equipment. Twenty-two of the plans did not describe how the nursing home would transport medications.

Let’s hope that the results of this investigation lead to some real changes with actual benefits to residents. We’re not going to hold our breath: Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner agreed that training steps should be added to the current regulations, she offered no timetable for doing so. Will it take another disaster on the level of Hurricane Katrina to have them heed the call to action?

To read the full article in the N&O, click here:  Big gaps found in nursing homes’ disaster plans