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Evacuation of Nursing Homes During Emergencies

Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey and New York, especially coastal areas. A decision was made before the storm hit that the nursing homes located on the Rockaway peninsula, right in the path of the storm and the surge, would not be evacuated. The order was given to shelter in place, an order that could have resulted in major casualties. Luckily, it did not.

According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), in 2012 more than 1.4 million Americans lived in 15,800 nursing homes across the country.

Although FEMA requires evacuation plans for nursing homes, those plans often lack the specifics needed to function with efficacy. Non-binding recommendations from Medicare and Medicaid suggest emergency planning and training for personnel at nursing homes, but they are largely unenforced.

The AARP has recognized these deficiencies in a recent article which presents nine questions to a nursing home provider regarding its patient evacuation plan. These inquiries are vital when considering a home for a loved one. They include:

  • Does a plan exist and how often it is updated?
  • What is the transportation plan?
  • How often is the staff trained on emergency procedures?
  • Where are patients taken?
  • How are medical records and medications transmitted to the emergency location?
  • How is family notified?
  • What plans are included to assure that there are adequate supplies at the evacuation destination?

The images of desperately ill patients caught in the throes of Hurricane Katrina should inform our emergency plans for all nursing homes and institutions housing the vulnerable. As you may expect, I have not seen litigation over evacuation issues. Rather, the focus is on harm due to a failure to provide adequate care in a nursing home. For that,be sure to consult an experienced personal injury attorney who knows the applicable law regarding custodial care.

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