Risks That Nursing Home Residents Face in a Hurricane

Risks from storms and other natural disasters can be especially dangerous to seniors as evidenced by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Florida has the most elder residents, aged 65 or older, in the U.S., a demographic that suffered a large number of casualties after the recent hurricane season.


Nursing homes are regulated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as well as state law, and both systems require these facilities to have hurricane preparedness rules in place, as well as regular inspections to make sure these plans are being carried out.


However, despite these requirements and even if plans are in place, the impact on the older generation can be extreme.


For instance, despite having passed their most recent state inspection, there were many unfortunate deaths of residents in South Florida at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills when the air conditioning system failed and the temperature reached 90 degrees.


Nursing home facilities are required to maintain safe, comfortable temperatures for their residents: generators should be inspected each week and tested monthly to ensure that the air conditioning will remain operable if the power turns off, unfortunately, this does not always happen, and the senior population is most vulnerable to an elevated temperature.


Risks to these residents can include the danger of the hurricane itself, as well as unfamiliar surroundings in the days afterward, when the residents may be moved into new lodgings and experience difficulties. If residents have dementia, the situation becomes even more difficult as any change in their day-to-day schedule is hard for them to adapt to.


The ability of the nursing home’s staff to keep its residents safe becomes even more important when dementia, including Alzheimer’s, is involved. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.3 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s in 2017 — that is 10 percent of this population.


This dementia reduces both an individual’s ability to respond quickly, independently and responsibly in dangerous situations. When evacuation becomes necessary due to an impending storm, nursing home staff must take extra precautions to keep their residents safe.


Typically, an evacuation is done without understanding each individual’s need; rather, they are done en masse all at once. This disruption to their day-to-day routine can be stressful to their physical and emotional condition as they may not understand why this change is happening.


The required adjustment to the relocation can be reduced when they are prepared in the time leading up to the evacuation, but there is usually not enough time to conduct this preparation. Calm conditions are helpful to keep disorientation and confusion to a minimum; however, this too, is difficult in emergency situations such as hurricanes.


Finally, plans for non-mobile residents must be accounted for. People who are wheelchair-dependent must be helped down the stairs in the case of an evacuation. Plans for this possibility must be included in the required hurricane preparedness plan to ensure everyone’s safety.