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Study: South Florida Nursing Homes Unprepared for Disasters

As those along the northeastern United States struggle to recover from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, our Tamarac nursing home abuse lawyers know that we here in Florida are just as vulnerable to disaster.

For nursing home residents, the risk is even more grave.

According to a study by the Gerontological Society of America, nursing home residents who are evacuated in preparation for a disaster are at risk of serious injury or worse during the relocation process.

The three-year study analyzed 21,255 nursing home residents in facilities along the Gulf Coast of Florida within a month of an evacuation. What they found was shocking: A 220 percent increase in mortality during that time frame among residents with severe dementia. There was also a nearly 160 percent increase in deaths within three months of the disaster.

This follows a recent government study that cited certain flaws in evacuation plans that don’t properly take into account nursing home residents’ safety and health.

At the University of South Florida-Tampa, a professor of aging studies was quoted as saying that it’s not entirely clear why these deaths are occurring. This is the first time we’ve even had a study to quantify the fact that there is a spike before and after evacuation orders.

This study specifically focuses on dementia patients, as somewhere between 50 to 70 percent of all the 1.6 million adults who live in nursing homes suffer from some form of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. It’s fair though to guess that other nursing home residents are similarly affected.

Relocating during an evacuation is a stressful event for anyone, regardless of your age or health. But older nursing home residents, particularly those who rely on 24-7 care, are at serious risk throughout every stage in the process.

In April, the Office of the Inspector General of Health and Human Services reported that there were a host of problems with preparation plans held by nursing homes. There were few guidelines for how facilities should “shelter in place,” let alone carry out a full-blown evacuation. Just as an example, there were two dozen facilities in Florida (just among those sampled) that did not specify how much water they would need in order to have at least a week-long, sufficient supply.

Emergency plans that were drawn up tended to be sorely incomplete. Of a checklist of 70 necessary considerations, many plans only had accounted for about half of those.

The state’s Agency for Health Care Administration does require nursing homes to have at least a week’s-worth of water and food, as well as prepared agreements with other facilities where residents could be taken, as well as companies that could be relied upon to transport them.

Those plans are supposed to be reviewed annually by the county’s emergency management office, as well as by state health care officials who conduct site visits.

Collaboration is key to making these plans effective. Hurricane Katrina showed us a dark picture of what can happen when we don’t.

Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Deaths rise at nursing homes in evacuations, Nov. 19, 2012, By Janice Lloyd, USA Today

More Blog Entries:
Elderly Woman Dies After Nursing Home Fire Drill, Oct. 31, 2012, Tamarac Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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