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In light of the many natural disasters that have occurred in the last few months across the U.S., the Department of Health and Human Services has issued a timely report regarding the state of disaster plans for one of the nation’s most vulnerable groups – nursing home residents. Unfortunately, the news is not good.

Approximately 14,700 of the 16,000 nursing homes across the country have met the emergency planning requirements from the federal government. This number sounded promising until inspectors took a closer look at 24 facilities that had been struck by disasters, including at least one North Carolina nursing home. Investigators discovered inadequate emergency plans that did not cover patients’ special needs, how to track residents if they were forced to leave the nursing home, or how to handle the proper administration of medications in a crisis.

Almost all of the nursing homes, which most likely are understaffed to begin with, had no idea what they would do if their current staff was unable to get to work during a disaster. Those staff who did work through a disaster said they had a hard time tracking patients and medications, a problem that could be much worse if the nursing home was understaffed.

As a result of the investigation, the inspector general’s office is recommending that more specific information be required in nursing home disaster plans to avoid a catastrophe like the one witnessed during Hurricane Katrina, when 35 residents in a single nursing home were tragically killed. In the meantime, if you have a loved one who lives in a nursing home, ask the administrator to see their emergency plan and ask them what procedures are in place to keep the residents safe in a time of disaster.


About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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