Choosing a nursing home: emergency plans (part I)

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Apr 29, 2012 in Nursing Home Information

There are a lot of factors West Virginia residents should consider when choosing a nursing home: proximity to family members and friends who will visit regularly, cost and so forth. Given the frequency of reports detailing horrific instances of nursing home abuse , however, it is also a decision that demands a great deal of research. But even then, even after doing everything possible to make sure your loved one will receive the kind of care he or she deserves -- actually choosing a nursing home requires more than just a little faith and trust.

In numerous previous blog posts, we've talked about important factors and actions people can take to make the best choice for their loved ones. Today we want to highlight one more item to consider: nursing home plans for natural disasters and emergencies.

While West Virginia certainly isn't the first state that comes to mind on the subject of natural disasters, tornadoes, flash floods, wild fires, blizzards and even earthquake damage have all been a part of our state's history. Emergencies, on the other hand, can occur anywhere, any time, for any number of reasons. In relation to a discussion about nursing homes , however, the most likely emergency situations would probably involve fires or power outages.

In any case, nursing homes that take their responsibilities seriously should have detailed emergency plans to deal with these situations and, in fact, are required to have such plans by the government. The problem is that the level of detail required of these plans is not sufficient to ensure quality patient care.

Shamefully, nearly seven years after Hurricane Katrina led to the deaths of 35 people at just one New Orleans nursing home (139 total deaths of nursing home residents were reported), Department of Health and Human Services investigators recently acknowledged that many of our nation's nursing care homes are still woefully unprepared to cope with even lesser catastrophes.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services investigators recently conducted a nationwide emergency and natural disaster preparedness survey of nursing homes. Unfortunately, the survey produced some alarming observations West Virginia residents who need to choose a nursing home should know about before making a decision.

Investigators started their work by looking at nursing homes that "on paper" - at least -- appeared to be in compliance with federal emergency planning (92 percent) and emergency training requirements (72 percent) To see whether that was actually the case and find out how good the plans at those facilities really were, investigators visited a representative sample of 24 homes that had been affected by disasters to pull the actual plans and interview staff members. And it was then that a different picture began to emerge.

  • Not one of the 24 plans included a plan to transport adequate food and water to residents of an evacuated facility.
  • 23 plans didn't tell staff members how to handle patient illnesses or deaths in an emergency situation.
  • 22 plans gave no indication of a backup plan for replacing staff members who could not or did not report to work during a disaster.
  • 19 plans provided no specifics about transporting wheelchairs or similar equipment in the event a facility had to be evacuated.
  • 15 plans contained no information about the specific care needs of patients or patient medication lists.
  • Several plans provided no guidance or instruction about making sure residents were given wristbands or name tags that could be used to identify them in an evacuation.

In theory and in practice, this type of inadequate planning for emergencies and natural disasters is simply an example of neglect waiting to happen.

With that in mind, West Virginia residents who are in the process of choosing a nursing home for a loved one and those with loved ones who are currently living in a nursing home might want to consider asking for a copy of those plans and review them with an attorney or trusted advisor.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Nursing Homes Disaster Plans: Big Gaps Found In Emergency Preparedness Response," Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, April 16, 2012

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