Friday, August 24, 2007

Hurricane Katrina: Nursing Home Evacuation Lessons Learned

It’s been two years since Hurricane Katrina and broken levees caused catastrophic flooding in Louisiana. Most nursing homes did not evacuate residents. Those too ill to sustain the tragedy died as hours of waiting to be rescued turned into days and nights of horror. Nursing home administrative directors plan for future emergency disasters by learning from these experiences.

This 2007 research study, which included Louisiana nursing homes in parishes affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, reports these results in the “Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.” The design included twenty in-depth telephone interviews followed by a focus group conducted in New Orleans, my hometown.

Nine of 20 nursing homes evacuated before the hurricanes, and 11 sheltered in place. Six additional nursing homes evacuated following the storms. The most common perceived consequences related to the evacuation process were resident morbidity or mortality (6 of 15), transportation issues (5 of 15), and staffing deficiencies (3 of 15). Common findings among the nursing homes that sheltered in place included supply shortages (8 of 11), facility damage (5 of 11), and staffing issues (4 of 11).

These were the conclusions, which centered around four general themes:

1) Directors felt abandoned by the state and federal emergency response apparatus during and after the hurricanes. They continue to feel that nursing homes are not a priority.

2) There is substantial physical and technical difficulty in evacuating frail nursing home residents.

3) Staff retention remains a critical problem, regardless of the evacuation decision.

4) There are key "lessons learned" that can be incorporated into future disaster planning.

You can listen to information at
regarding the negligent homicide trial
of owners of St. Rita Nursing Home where 35 elderly residents drowned.

Frances Shani Parker
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

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