Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mental Health Services in Nursing Homes after Disasters

Earthquakes like the recent one in Haiti and hurricanes like Katrina remind us of the devastating effects of environmental disasters. Living with the traumatic reality of being surrounded by many deaths, experiencing tremendous personal loss, and suffering physical injuries take a tremendous toll mentally on survivors. While physical needs receive more immediate attention, mental health intervention issues must also be addressed.

Research from the University of South Florida on mental health services in nursing homes after hurricanes provides helpful information about how residents should be treated after disasters. Representing two-thirds of Florida's counties, a questionnaire was administered to 258 directors of nursing, administrators, and owners of nursing homes. Residents stated their mental health needs and service use. In addition, focus group meetings with 22 nursing home administrators evaluated residents' use of services.

Results revealed that disaster-related mental health services were not routinely provided to residents. When residents involved in a disaster did receive treatment, it was more likely to come from facilities where they were taken after the disaster, not the facilities from which they were evacuated.

This mental health research indicates a serious need for training nursing home staff members in the delivery of disaster-related mental health intervention. They also need training in the procedures for making referrals for follow-up evaluation and formal intervention. Mental health training would be beneficial in healing many disaster survivors who suffer from depression, grief, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Frances Shani Parker, Author


  1. Local hospice agencies often have trained therapists in grief and loss. They will conduct groups, staff training, and provide counseling in your facility. Advertising community events on grief in conjunction with the hospice helps raise brand recognition for both parties while responding to a community in need.

  2. I spent 9 days in Haiti as part of a first-response medical relief team. We were busy treating closed and open fractures, burns, wounds and broken hearts.

    Hospice/palliation came up several times. A good example was a wonderful 97-year old woman who suffered a femur fracture. Although she was otherwise in pretty good shape, her age and the limited access to surgery led us to talk about palliation-only treatment.

    The Haitians, so wonderful and buoyant in spirit, embraced our recommendation. We counseled them on infection and bed sore prevention, and talked about traction for pain control.

    In this case and others, prayer was a mighty tool. Out team prayed at length with almost each patient we saw (up to 200 a day), and the effect was palpable on the Haitians and us. Many left the tent clinic and remarked that although they had been treated by physicians, they had never been prayed over as well.

    I kept a log of our experience in Haiti. Please see it on Our hospice web address is There I write a weekly blog about spirituality and hospice.