Coastal nursing homes prepare for Isaac

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Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
LuMarie Polivka-West's voice sounds like it was run over by a lawn mower.

That's because she and her colleagues at the Florida Health Care Association spent the weekend calling 197 nursing home members in the potential path of Tropical Storm Isaac.

Luckily, “we heard really encouraging news,” the senior vice president of policy said hoarsely. All are prepared to shelter in place instead of evacuate.

“There was no facility that identified any problem in terms of preparation,” she said. “Every one had gone through a checklist.”

Polivka-West says those plans include having generators ready, shutters in place or boarded windows, cash on hand and staffing plans.

“Many had gone into a 12-hour staffing shift plan,” she said, with employees making plans with their families in the event they couldn't come home when planned.

When it comes to hurricanes in Florida, there are bigger problems than whether the GOP can hold its convention. (In fact, I've learned there are other cities in Florida besides Tampa. Who knew?) They can be the most disruptive to the frail and elderly, and cause no end of problems for nursing home providers.

Polivka-West says that since 2004 and 2005, when Florida saw the evacuations of 25,000 people, skilled nursing facilities have upped their game when it comes to emergency preparedness. That's especially good news given a report from the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Inspector General this year, which indicated many nursing homes around the country lack full emergency preparedness plans. (Before you sharpen your pencils, yes, I know their report was limited in scope, only looking at two dozen nursing homes. It still made the industry look terrible, and still lends credence to having better emergency planning.)

Of course, while sheltering in place is often ideal for residents, it's not always feasible. By late Monday, the National Hurricane Center predicted Isaac would become a hurricane, complete with winds of between 74 mph and 95 mph. By the time you are reading this, it likely will have hit somewhere from New Orleans to the Florida Panhandle.

While FHCA has its eye on 35 facilities along the panhandle considered at risk, nine Louisiana Nursing Home Association members had evacuated by midday Monday. However, many members purchased larger generators post-Hurricane Katrina and are prepared to tough it out, according to LNHA head Joe Donchess.

“We're hoping the [generators] will be well-maintained and up to the task,” he said, having reminded members early Monday to top off the generators with fuel and to test them.

“Now is the time to order more bottled water, medicines, supplies,” he said in an email to members Monday. “If you expect to evacuate, now is the time to do it. With landfall projected at approximately midnight Wednesday (or late Tuesday), you must make your decision NOW if you are going to evacuate.”

The coastal associations work closely together when it comes to natural disaster planning, Polivka-West said. The nursing home residents who died during Hurricane Katrina are never too far from anyone's thoughts.

“We have to watch it really carefully and it could turn. Right now I'm sorry to say that it's headed toward New Orleans,” she said.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

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