The U.S. Senate’s report on nursing home disaster preparedness effectively pins the deaths of 12 residents and the injuries of dozens more on the government agencies tasked with preventing this type of tragedy.
In the report, compiled by the Minority Staff of the Finance Committee, the U.S. Senate questions the oversight of nursing homes provided by federal and state agencies. Inspired by the 2017 hurricanes in Florida and Texas, the investigation looked at nursing home response during natural disasters and other emergencies.
The Senate committee found that the deaths and injuries during these hurricanes were not unpredictable and random. Instead, they were the result of poor oversight, ineffective or inadequate emergency planning, and questionable decision-making on the part of facility staff and administrators.
Nursing Homes May Put Residents in Danger When Sheltering in Place During a Storm
Specifically, the investigation, and the resulting U.S. Senate report on nursing home disaster oversight, looked at the practice of sheltering nursing home residents in place during a storm. Nursing home residents tend to be frail and have complex medical problems, so it can be difficult to move them quickly. However, according to the Senate investigation, many facilities are not adequately prepared for the conditions they will face during a major natural disaster. This makes sheltering in place dangerous and even life-threatening for residents.
A facility that shelters in place must have a skilled staff with the know-how and training to:
- Make split-second, educated decisions.
- Respond to unusual and unpredictable issues.
- Navigate post-storm complications.
- Ensure they have ample resources for residents and staff.
- Have the tools to keep residents and staff safe and comfortable.
- Regularly re-evaluate their plan and consider if there might be a better alternative.
- Know when conditions change enough that evacuation becomes necessary.
In the examples that the committee reviewed during the hurricanes, the nursing homes in question lacked many of these attributes. This deficiency contributed to the tragic outcome and the high number of nursing home injuries.
The Senate Recommends Changes to Increase Disaster Preparedness in Nursing Homes Nationwide
Recommendations in the U.S. Senate report on nursing home disaster oversight include:
- Revise the temperature standard: Nursing homes have a responsibility to ensure all residents have a “safe and comfortable” ambient temperature even in the wake of a natural disaster and power outage. The Senate report recommends using heat index instead of temperature for this standard.
- Emergency power and air conditioning: Require all nursing homes to have emergency power that can provide adequate environmental controls when necessary, such as powering the facility’s air conditioning units.
- Requirements for heat emergencies: Institute regulations relating to heat emergencies, including monitoring of the heat index, watching for signs of heat-related illness, and conducting training in areas where heat emergency is most likely to happen.
- Improved process for approving facility’s plans: Staff from all oversight agencies need to re-examine their process for reviewing and approving disaster preparedness and emergency plans to ensure they provide adequate protection for residents.
- Re-evaluate transportation plans: Facilities must have an emergency plan in place to evacuate, in the event it becomes necessary. This evacuation must include transportation plans that provide a safe and quick escape for residents.
- Increase the role of the medical director in an emergency: Medical directors and other administrators should remain on the property and continue to shelter in place as long as residents are there. They should have an active role in making evacuation decisions and other decisions about the minute-to-minute operation of the facility during an emergency.
Two Tragic Stories Inspired This Investigation
When two major hurricanes hit the United States less than two weeks apart in 2017, many nursing homes went into a shelter-in-place mode. The families of the residents in these facilities likely had confidence that their loved ones were safe, but this was not the case. This is why the Senate investigated this issue and released this report on nursing home disaster oversight.
Hurricane Harvey Slam Texas
In Texas, Hurricane Harvey made landfall and drenched the state with rain. Nursing homes that did not have a strong evacuation plan in place began to flood. The news showed video of residents in wheelchairs up to their waists in water before rescuers found a way to get them to higher ground. The mid-storm evacuations were also dangerous, and some residents required medical care as a result of this.
Category 5 Irma Knocks Out Power
A short time later, at a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, Hurricane Irma knocked out the power, and residents began suffering heat-related illnesses as the heat index soared to 99. Administrators failed to recognize the threat of heat exhaustion, dehydration, and heatstroke before 12 residents passed away, and dozens of others suffered injuries. The county medical examiner ruled the deaths as homicides.
Talk to a Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect Lawyer Today
If your loved one sustained injuries during a natural disaster or other power outage at their nursing home, they may be eligible to take legal action and pursue compensation. Call Pintas & Mullins Law Firm today at (800) 201-3999 and talk to one of our attorneys about his or her case for free. We do not shy away from tough cases, and you do not pay us anything unless we recover compensation for you.