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Disaster Response Plans for Nursing Homes Nationwide Fall Short

As spring slowly but surely gives way to summer’s warmer weather, the likelihood of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, floods and hurricanes increases. In the event of a natural disaster, it is essential that nursing homes have a disaster response plan to ensure no resident gets left behind. However, many nursing homes fail to effectively implement a plan, and residents suffer and are exposed to grave danger as a result.

Past Failings

The Houston Chronicle found that at least 139 nursing home residents died during or as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

Since then, not too much has improved. In 2012, federal investigators found nursing homes were severely unprepared to handle natural disasters, CBS reported. “Emergency plans lacked relevant information. … Nursing homes faced challenges with unreliable transportation contracts, lack of collaboration with local emergency management, and residents who developed health problems,” investigators from the inspector general’s office of the Health and Human Services Department wrote in the 2012 report.

More recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services developed an Emergency Preparedness Rule in 2016, which details how long-term care facilities are to handle emergency situations. To be in compliance, facilities must keep track of patients and staff both during and after any emergency. Furthermore, facilities are to prepare for power outages, equipment failure, transportation difficulties, and more. While the goals look good on paper, their implementation is far from perfect.

More Recent Failings

Despite CMS’ guidelines, hurricanes Harvey and Irma proved yet again that nursing homes are still ill prepared to properly care for residents in the event of an emergency. The U.S. Senate came out with a report in 2018 voicing concerns and recommendations for nursing homes nationwide. Five of the concerns include:

  1. Temperature control is a basic safety issue for nursing homes residents. However, federal regulations don’t require emergency power to be capable of maintaining safe temperatures in nursing homes.”
  2. Inadequate regulatory review allowed for non-functional emergency plans. The investigation found plans omitted basic information such as who is responsible for evacuation decisions, emergency procedures in case power or temperature control is lost, and even accurate descriptions of likely emergencies.”
  3. Greater preparation is needed when sheltering-in-place during natural disasters. However, sheltering-in-place also carries risks, and this report details examples of nursing homes that sheltered-in-place without adequate preparation for scenarios such as power loss or flooding.”
  4. Federal temperature control rules are decades old and not based on modern science. Federal rules state that 71 to 81 degrees is a ‘safe and comfortable’ temperature for long-term care facilities. Yet, this rule, in place since the 1980s, is based on standards developed by heating and air-conditioning industry engineers—not medical experts.”
  5. Threats to at-risk populations were not accounted for in power restoration priority. The process for establishing power restoration priorities should be revisited to ensure that the loss of power does not lead to loss of life in nursing homes.”

Sadly, in the 2012 investigation, federal investigators found that nursing homes in Tennessee had deficiencies as well. On top of that, several surrounding states, including Alabama, are on the list of top ten disaster-prone states, meaning emergency situations are likely.

Jehl Law Group Attorneys Can Help Those Affected by Natural Disaster Injuries

Serious injury or death can result from a lack of preparedness during emergency situations. If you or a loved one has sustained injuries after an emergency or natural disaster due to nursing home negligence, you may be entitled to compensation.

Maintaining health and safety is always a priority. When either is compromised due to a lack of care, we seek to fight for justice for those affected. Please do not wait to get help. Call us today at (901) 322-4232 for a free, confidential consultation. We have years of experience winning cases and helping our clients find justice.