| As Hurricane Harvey loomed over the Gulf Coast in August, one of the nation’s largest nursing home operators quickly realized that residents at its Texas facilities might need evacuation to be kept from harm’s way.
So managers at Genesis HealthCare pulled out its emergency response plan. Following the playbook, they evacuated 67 residents at Oak Crest Center in Rockport before Harvey hit, and 103 residents from its Clairmont facility in Beaumont immediately after the storm.
Within days, Hurricane Irma threatened to inundate Florida, and Genesis had to act again, preemptively moving 345 residents from three care centers in Naples, Oldsmar and New Port Richey. Genesis’ emergency response plans — honed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, refined after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and further improved after storms knocked out power to 40 facilities in the Northeast in 2013 — enabled the company to skirt the mayhem that occurred at other nursing homes in the region. In the most publicized cases, 14 residents died after air conditioners failed at Florida’s Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, while at the La Vita Bella nursing home in Texas, residents — some wheelchair-bound — languished in floodwaters for hours. The challenge has played out yet again in Puerto Rico, where nursing homes went without power or supplies long after Hurricane Maria passed.
“You learn from every one of these events, and what we’ve learned is, you first err on the side of caution,’’ says Genesis HealthCare CEO George Hager. “If there’s a chance for patients at risk, you evacuate to safer areas, even if it’s disruptive to patients who are sick and frail, and even if it may be difficult.”
Putting plans in place
Mid-November happens to be the deadline for most of the nation’s long-term care facilities to have emergency and disaster preparedness plans in place. New Medicare and Medicaid guidelines were prompted by the deaths of over 200 hospital and nursing home residents during Hurricane Katrina. These plans must include procedures to deal with everything from storms to cyberattacks.
Critics say that while they’re glad the rules are finally going into effect, they’ll do little to prevent future catastrophes without tough enforcement, routine testing, ongoing training and frequent live drills.