In previous posts, we have written about troubling and sometimes heartbreaking conditions at nursing home facilities in New Jersey and elsewhere. Nursing home negligence can take a variety of forms, be it individual abuses by staff members or facility-wide problems with hygiene and substandard care.
But the giant spring storm that hit New Jersey and other Eastern states this week gives us another important idea to consider. While this was certainly not the worst weather ever to hit the state, we must wonder if New Jersey's nursing homes are prepared to deal with natural disasters and severe weather. If not, does this constitute a form of elder abuse and neglect?
Federal government investigations have shown that lack of emergency preparedness is a major problem at nursing homes around the country, according to a recent article in USA Today.
This issue gained greater attention and urgency following hurricane Katrina. Approximately 139 residents of nursing homes died either during the hurricane or shortly thereafter. One facility just outside New Orleans lost 35 residents because of the storm, some of whom drowned while still in bed.
Over the last few years, government investigators have been taking a harder look at emergency preparedness among the nation's nursing homes and care facilities. Some common but major problems include:
- Inadequate or no plan to notify the relatives of patients
- Inadequate plans on how to handle patient medications, transportation and other critical factors in the event of an evacuation
- Inadequate instructions on how to collaborate with local authorities
In the recently released government report, investigators noted: "Emergency plans lacked relevant information. ... Nursing homes faced challenges with unreliable transportation contracts, lack of collaboration with local emergency management, and residents who developed health problems."
It is disturbing to think of what could go wrong during a natural disaster simply because a nursing home facility does not have an adequate emergency response plan in place. Considering that many residents lack mobility and are already in frail health, this failure to plan could be a death sentence.
This is an important consideration for any New Jersey family with a relative in a nursing facility. Before you entrust your loved one to the care of a nursing home, you may wish to ask some tough questions of the staff and administration regarding disaster response.
Source: USA Today, "Big gaps found in nursing homes' disaster plans," Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, April 16, 2012