Nursing homes pass test of Hurricane Gustav

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Nursing homes deserve a Category 5 round of applause. Three years after two major hurricanes walloped the Gulf Coast and exposed a disjointed evacuation system, nursing homes and government agencies proved their mettle during the latest Hurricane Gustav.

“It went 100% smoother than for Katrina,” Karen Contrenchis, head of the Gulf States Association of Homes and Services for the Aging told me today. “I think the new plans we put in place worked well.”

Those plans entailed a mass evacuation from the Gulf Coast of Louisiana Friday and over the weekend in advance of the hurricane’s landfall—not an easy task by any stretch. Caregivers are exhausted tending to residents who had to sleep on mattresses during the evacuation, Contrenchis said.

As of Wednesday, three patients had died as a result of being evacuated to hospitals or nursing homes beyond the hurricane’s reach, according to The New York Times. While heartbreaking, that is slightly easier to bear compared with the knowledge that 70 residents died in nursing homes that didn’t evacuate during Hurricane Katrina. In addition, as many as 55 who were evacuated died during the storm or immediately afterward, according to the Associated Press.

The recent evacuation wasn’t all perfection, Contrenchis acknowledged. There were still some glitches, including a few transportation failures. Still, it is clear that the industry’s labors in developing action plans over the last three years paid off.

“It was worth the effort, believe me,” she said.

Nursing homes performed admirably during their first post-Katrina and Rita scare. Hopefully Hanna, Ike and Josephine, which weather watchers are monitoring closely on their radar screens, will spare them.

For information on emergency and disaster preparedness for long-term care, check out these Web sites:

http://www.ahcancal.org -- This Web site of the American Health Care Association offers numerous reports and documents. Try the search terms “disaster preparedness” or “disaster planning.”

http://www.aahsa.org/hurricane/default.asp -- This hurricane resources center of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging is available to members. Here, members can register their facilities, share evacuation plans and find out about resources they can use to communicate with staff and family members.

http://www.cms.hhs.gov/Emergency/02_Hurricanes.asp
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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.

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