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Margate Nursing Home Neglect: Disaster Preparedness a Concern

Hurricane season is on the horizon, and one aspect of Margate nursing home neglect that is not often discussed is disaster preparedness.

Our Margate nursing home neglect attorneys know that it’s not until a major storm is about to strike that it begins to loom large on people’s minds. However, the fact is that nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have a responsibility to ensure that there is a plan in place to protect these vulnerable patients in the event of a disaster.

Given that Margate nursing homes are situated so close to the coastline, this is all the more critical.

The Associated Press recently took a closer look at this issue nationally, and found that Florida nursing homes – and those throughout the country – are woefully unprepared when it comes to hurricanes, floods and tornadoes. Emergency plans, which are required by the government, fail to initiate even the basics, such as specific protocol for coordination with local authorities, organizing medication lists, pinning name tags to residents or notification of relatives and loved ones.

So even though a place might have an emergency plan, it’s likely not worth much.

Seven years ago, we saw how devastating a lack of a plan can be. That’s when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. In New Orleans, where 80 percent of the city was submerged by flood waters, about 70 percent of the 53 nursing homes were not evacuated prior to the storm’s landfall. Many residents suffered greatly, and 35 died at a single facility – some drowning in their beds.

Our Margate nursing home neglect attorneys would have hoped these would have been lessons learned.

But in a report released this month by the Health and Human Services Department, it was shown that nursing homes faced a number of significant gaps in preparedness – including transportation contracts that are unreliable, a glaring lack of coordination with emergency management responders and patients with significant health problems that likely wouldn’t be addressed.

Part of the problems is that many of the disaster plan guidelines that the federal government recommends for nursing homes aren’t legally binding, so many facilities simply ignored them. (This means they may not be held criminally liable for failing to enact a plan, but they could still be held responsible in civil court.)

It was recommended that Medicaid and Medicare outline specifics with regard to emergency plans. The two agencies agreed, but there has been no timeline for when that might happen.

The research further explored the scope of the problem. With more than 3 million nursing home residents nationwide in 2009, about 40 percent live in the top 10 disaster-prone states (Florida is one of those). Typically, a nursing home resident is a woman who is in her 80s or older and has mental and physical limitations that leave her entirely dependent on others to complete basic daily functions.

What is perhaps especially alarming about this research is that on the surface, everything seemed to be Ok. In fact, 92 percent of the country’s 16,000 nursing homes were in line with federal regulations when it came to emergency planning. The real problems didn’t become apparent until investigators actually showed up at 24 nursing homes and started pulling those plans and reviewing specifics.

It was then that they discovered plans that were stashed in various boxes. One was written on a yellow legal pad. In 23 of the 24 cases, the plans didn’t lay out how to handle the death of a patient in the midst of an evacuation. In more than half of the homes, there was no detailed information indicating the specific medical needs of the patients – and we’re talking very basic, like breathing equipment and feeding tubes. A number of the plans also didn’t tell the staff how they should identify patients during an evacuations. These would be simple measures like name tags or wristbands.

Even more astounding: Not a single one met the government recommendations for having an adequate supply of a weeks-worth of water. The vast majority also had no alternate plans regarding what to do if staff members weren’t able to work during a disaster – a very real possibility.

If you or a loved one have suffered from nursing home abuse in Margate or the surrounding areas, contact the Law Offices of Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez for legal assistance. 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Big gaps found in nursing homes’ disaster plans, By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Associated Press

More Blog Entries:
Broward Nursing Home Negligence Often Responsible for Virus Outbreaks, April 12, 2012, Margate Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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