Dr. Eleanor Barbera

By now it’s likely that you, your staff, the residents and their families have seen the incredibly disturbing photo of assisted living residents in Dickinson, TX, sitting in waist-high floodwaters.

Thankfully, all the older women in the picture have been rescued, but that image and others of the flood are undoubtedly causing concern in your community.

Vulnerable residents with no ability to remove themselves from similar situations may be experiencing anxiety, nightmares and/or agitation after seeing their peers immersed in water. Worried family members will want to know that their loved ones are safe from comparable disasters. 

Staff members may be wondering what crisis procedures the facility has in place and if they’re sufficiently prepared to carry them out should the need arise (especially with their own families to worry about in an emergency).

Reassurance required

Just as the nation turns to its leaders for reassurance during difficult times, the members of your community will look to you to calm their fears. Now is the time to write a memo to your staff, post a notice in the lobby and add an article to the organization’s newsletter assuring people that there are plans in place for emergencies and that steps have been taken to ensure the safety of the elders entrusted to your care.

Review emergency plans

Review policies and procedures and train staff so that they feel comfortable carrying out these plans. Coordinate with other long-term care facilities so that there is reciprocity of staff and beds in emergency situations.

Offer staff support

Establish protocols and inform staff of your intention to provide support in times of distress. Your staff members are much more likely to be available to assist elders at work if they know their loved ones at home will be okay. Assistance could range from an emergency fund to cover unanticipated babysitting costs to facilitation of carpooling to knowledge that your facility will function as a shelter in case of emergency.

Attend to the residents’ emotions

It will be a rare resident who can look at that photo and not think, “That could have been me!” Add in-service trainings for your team to look for signs of distress in residents such as the aforementioned agitation, nightmares or anxiety, which can show itself in the form of increased neediness.

Hold activities that are geared toward calming residents, such as soothing music, cookie baking and classic movies. Limit viewing of distressing television images in common areas where residents are unable to leave unaided.

Refer distressed residents for psychological services. Past traumas can be triggered by exposure to disquieting events.

Rally as a community

One of the most unsettling aspects of the Texas flood is the helplessness experienced by residents. Counter feelings of helplessness with group efforts to raise money or donate needed goods to those affected by the storm.

One place to donate funds is the American Red Cross.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is the Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category of the American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with over 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.