Residents in a senior care facility are particularly vulnerable in emergencies. The staff carries a heavy burden during these incidents as well with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of all in their care. In recent years, nursing homes and senior living facilities have had to respond to natural hazards such as hurricanes, tornados and fires along with the now critical global health emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been found, however, that many nursing homes are unprepared for even minor crises. Much more attention is now being given to rectifying this deficiency. It is crucial for eldercare companies to have emergency action plans in place and to prepare staff and residents for how to respond to crisis situations.
Emergency Action Plan Implementation
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the federal government implemented guidelines that required nursing homes to prepare emergency and disaster plans for responding to situations ranging from minor incidents to large-scale crises. Such plans, by their nature, must be thorough and actionable to adequately address the challenges of keeping vulnerable older or disabled adults safe. It is necessary to frequently revisit the plans to ensure they continue to adhere to any changes in federal guidelines or to facility operations. Investing in a system specifically designed for cms emergency preparedness can potentially ensure more efficient and effective responses to emergencies and disasters.
Staff and Resident Preparedness
It is not enough to have good action plans in place. Staff and residents also need to be prepared for how to carry out these plans. Regular and ongoing communication and training will aid staff in knowing how to handle situations when they arise. CMS.gov provides information that can help keep staff abreast of current emergencies facing the nation, but each facility needs to also be trained in managing more localized emergencies such as power failures. Training the staff is insufficient for ensuring the correct response when a real situation arises. Crisis responses require practice as well. Unannounced drills for all types of emergencies will give staff and residents the opportunity to respond in a way that mimics real crises, where often there is little to no lead time to prepare. To be most effective, these drills should occur randomly but at regular intervals.
The frequent occurrence of high-profile natural disasters and emergencies has served as a wake-up call for the nation’s eldercare organizations. Implementing emergency action plans and adequately preparing the staff and residents needs to be a priority. Being prepared for the next crisis reduces the impact of the event and save lives.