Irene's nursing home evacuations leave paperwork headaches behind

The Senate Special Committee on Aging met Wednesday to address the importance of emergency and disaster planning and the need for improved coordination between policy makers and long-term care providers.

“More than 70% of the people who died in Louisiana as a result of Hurricane Katrina were older than age 60,” Dr. Richard Besser, director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism, Preparedness and Emergency Response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the committee. Many of those people died either at home or in a nursing home, he continued.

Nursing homes were not given the same guidance during the 2005 hurricane season that hospitals were given, according to another witness, LuMarie Polivka-West, senior vice president of policy at the Florida Health Care Association. What’s more, “utility services did not understand the special needs of the frail elderly and those with disabilities in nursing homes and assisted living communities, leaving them without electricity and telephone services,” she said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) pointed out that, although efforts have been made to strengthen emergency response preparedness since Hurricane Katrina, much work still remains. Of particular concern to the committee was how to protect seniors in the event of a pandemic, such as the current H1N1 influenza outbreak. For transcripts of witness testimony, visit