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Are Senior Care Facilities Prepared for Hurricanes?

Harvey struck before new federal disaster planning rules took effect

Nursing Home Flood Preparation

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The rule requires nursing homes to have plans and procedures for emergencies such as storms or terrorist attacks.

One particularly haunting image from Hurricane Harvey’s devastation depicted residents at an assisted living community in Dickinson, Texas, sitting in a partially flooded room as they waited to be evacuated.

Those residents were picked up by the Texas National Guard and are now safe, the Galveston County Daily News reported. But the much-tweeted image raised the larger question of whether adequate measures are in place to protect people in senior care facilities during hurricanes and other emergencies.


Hurricane Harvey struck before stricter federal emergency planning requirements for skilled nursing facilities and 16 other types of health care providers could take effect. The rule from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires nursing homes to have plans and procedures in place for emergencies such as storms or terrorist attacks and to have lines of communication set up to coordinate their efforts with other local care providers and government agencies.

“The federal rule raises the bar in an important and good way” over individual states’ varying requirements, said Barbara B. Citarella, a Staatsburg, N.Y-based health care consultant, who has been advising facilities on how to meet the new CMS emergency requirements.

Citarella said the rule won’t apply to assisted living facilities — which mostly are under state regulation.

In Texas, thousands of residents from more than 95 nursing homes and assisted living communities had been evacuated and moved to other facilities by Wednesday afternoon, according to the Texas Health Care Association, an industry group. But “many more nursing facilities were forced to implement emergency preparedness plans and shelter in place,” the association said in an emailed statement.


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