Lessons from the Storm: Nursing Homes and Disaster Planning

At The Brod Firm, we are committed to advocating for the health and safety of Northern California nursing home residents. Our San Francisco nursing home lawyer believes that a vital component of nursing home safety is having care plans in place for all residents and being prepared to respond to the unexpected. This includes having plans in place in case of an area-wide emergency, an issue highlighted in a recent report on the failure of many care facilities to prepare for severe weather and related natural disasters.

A Case Study: Nursing Homes Struggle Following East Coast Storm
According to an Associated Press article carried by ABC news, Superstorm Sandy called attention to the failure of nursing homes nationwide to properly prepare for natural disasters. Despite efforts undertaken in the wake of Katrina and the general readiness atmosphere in place since 9/11, nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Sandy’s path struggled to evacuate some 6,300 residents when the storm caused flooding and widespread power outages. Problems included confusion about where to send residents and trouble keeping families informed about where patients have been sent. Some facilities became overwhelmed with more evacuees than they could care for, leading to some patients being moved multiple times. Medical records did not always move along with the patients.

A number of factors added to the confusion. Public health officials did not call for moving patients in advance of the storm because of concerns about the health risk of transporting frail patients. Notably, the director of one facility noted that they had practiced evacuation drills but had not planned for evacuations to occur during a power outage. Emergency placements were done in the moment because New York, unlike some hurricane-prone states, did not require nursing homes to have detailed placement plans specifying where patients would be taken in the event of an evacuation.

Improving Nursing Home Disaster Preparedness
Experts have long warned that nursing home evacuation plans were lacking. A report issued last year by the Department of Health and Human Services reiterated this verdict, despite noting that most plans complied with federal law. Officials with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid have pledged changes. This may include requiring that nursing homes create evacuation plans based on a federally authored checklist. Additionally, the plans call for coordination between nursing homes and the emergency preparedness systems at both the local and national levels.

Notably, industry experts such as Joseph Donchess with the American Health Care Association say the industry had improved disaster planning since Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. Still, he agrees there is room for improvement as shown by the problems after Sandy. He called for better patient tracking systems and making medical records available to homes that receive displaced patients. Doncess also called for regional planning efforts to help when multiple facilities are looking for resources in the wake of a disaster.

We hope that the lessons of Sandy are heard across the country. By definition, nursing home patients require a high level of care. This makes emergency planning a must. Facilities must have detailed plans in place to ensure patient safety. The day of a disaster is a day too late for disaster planning. If planning failures result in harm to a loved one, please contact our Northern California nursing home lawyer.

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