Many Nursing Homes Not Prepared for Emergencies


Is your loved one's nursing home fully prepared for a natural disaster?

According to a recently released report form the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the answer to this question is likely to be a resounding; "No."

An in-depth investigation into 24 nursing homes in some of the nation's most disaster-prone areas has concluded that many facilities would be in serious trouble if a twister or flood were to come knocking on their door.

All appears well, at first glance—92 percent of nursing homes in America meet the emergency planning regulations set forth by the government.

The problem, according to the federal investigators, is that these guidelines are too loose and don't include detailed information on how to develop an air-tight emergency plan.

The data they collected shows just how dangerous this oversight can be. Out of 24 nursing home emergency preparedness plans:

  • 23 failed to outline how to respond to the sudden illness or death of a resident while undergoing an evacuation.
  • Seven left no instruction for how to label and identify residents during an evacuation, while 15 had no process for preserving a patient's list of medications.
  • Even in the event that a resident's medications were known, 22 plans neglected to mention how those prescriptions would be transported in the event of an evacuation.

The list of startling statistics goes on, finding most homes wanting in a number of key safety areas, including: proper access to food and clean water in the event of an evacuation. Some facilities even admitted to briefly losing multiple residents during previous disasters.

The study authors' final conclusion was that more specific guidelines are needed to help keep the elderly who rely on nursing home care safe.

From tornadoes and wildfires to hurricanes and mudslides, the summer months often bring some of the most severe weather events of the entire year.

And, while this report has served as a much-needed wake-up call for government officials and nursing home staffs, new regulations for emergency preparedness are likely months away from being implemented. Which means that seniors who need nursing home care now could be at risk if disaster strikes the nursing home where they're staying.

While it may not always be possible, it's helpful for a caregiver to do as much digging as they can into a particular facility before they let their elderly loved one stay there. has compiled a list of questions that caregivers should ask when they are looking for a long-term care facility with a solid disaster plan.

You May Also Like

Free AgingCare Guides

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!


Alot of this depends on what the emergency is.The NH are required to have on file an emergency preparedness plan. For isolated emergencies like fire or tornadoes or contamination if the facility has a plan and does drills regularly for staff, it seems to work. But for larger regional disasters like floods or cat 4 & 5 hurricanes, it's all chaos. It takes the feds or red cross usually 3 days to come in - that's a deadly eternity to a intensive care patient or others with critical conditions.

We went thru Katrina, my MIL was in a LTC facility in NOLA and many friends who had parents in NH all along the coast; friends who were health care providers at the time (Memorial, Tulane & Touro) and worked the storm and I had a client who died on the tarmac at MSY after evacuation from Tulane where he was doing well and recovering from gall bladder surgery the Friday before. Everyplace was chaos. The facilities who had plans in place, did practice scenarios and had phone chains established, etc. were just as bad off as those who didn't.

All the "planning" was moot. This was because the plan assumed that staff would show up to work. Well that just flat didn't happen. Many were at 50% staff and alot of those left when they saw a way out. You can't make people come into work. The Sunday before the storm most were leaving and work schedule was someone's else's problem. The next time there is a major hurricane, I bet the % goes even lower the next time around.

Because of the post Katrina litigation and vilification of Dr Anna Pou and other brave doc's, nurses and staff who stayed and worked at Memorial Baptist and other hospitals and NH in the Katrina zone in LA & MS, the majority of the health care providers we know are not going to show up the next time there is a major emergency.I can't blame them. If you plan on having elective surgery, you wait till hurricane season is done. What happened to Dr Pou has huge ramifications for health care providers everywhere. Not worth the risk to stay to work.

If your worried about your folks in the NH when there is a major disaster, then you need to get them and their medications. Otherwise pray & hope for the best.