Disaster Preparedness in Nursing Homes: Some Thoughts

Today we have a guest post from Kitty Holman on the subject of Nursing Home Disaster Preparedness. 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 Disaster Preparedness in Nursing Homes: Some Thoughts

Ever since Hurricane Katrina hit, nursing homes and care facilities have been working to improve their disaster preparedness and response plans. The hurricane prompted a review of these disaster plans; in fact, many state health departments updated their disaster plans shortly thereafter, or after region disasters in their own area. For example, Wisconsin conducted an emergency management conference after disastrous flooding occurred in the state in 1997, and then the state convened an expert panel in 2006 to reassess the state’s disaster preparedness. Likewise, the Department of Health and Human Services released this report in August of 2006, which examined nursing home emergency responses during recent hurricanes. And recently, Knoxnews.com reported that the Knoxville-Knox County Emergency Management Agency recently met again to talk about disaster preparedness in the United States, perhaps in response to the severe winter weather we have had this year.

In other words, it seems that health care facility policy has been especially geared toward assessing health care facilities’ responses to disasters and how those responses can keep patients and residents safe.

However, as I read through this research—especially these sample plans— I found myself  wondering about how each facility would specifically apply them in a situation. For example, one of the Wisconsin plans recommends that Medical Records Personnel make sure that each resident’s records are evacuated with the resident, but it does not go farther than that. I found myself agreeing with Tom Lane, a consultant for the East Tennessee Regional Health Office, who told Knoxnews.com that “there’s a lot of cookie-cutter plans out there.”

It makes sense, obviously, that a sample plan cannot be too specific in the steps it outlines that personnel should take in the event of an emergency, otherwise it wouldn’t be a useful plan. This means that nursing home administrators must take the sample plan and make it their own. While reading Nursing Home Pro, I began to come up with a list of ways nursing home personnel could do this, thus making their disaster preparation even better and more efficient than ever.

Insert Specifics into the Plan

In order to improve the state health department guidelines, you should insert specific instructions within these plans to clear up any confusion that might arise from trying to implement these plans. For example, it might be useful to follow up the above step about medical records with a specific plan regarding how exactly to store and transfer them.

Perform Dry-Runs

Secondly, nursing home administrators and personnel should do practice drills in order to see these plans in motion. Doing run-throughs will allow administrators to make adjustments to the plans or to tweak any errors or miscues that arise. If you do schedule run-throughs, you have to consider how often you can do an exercise without upsetting or frustrating your residents. Typically, these run-throughs will be coordinated with other state agencies, so that you can have a state-wide exercise once a year.

Attend Planning Conferences

Another way to get ideas as to how to better implement your emergency plan is to meet with other nursing home personnel to discuss how they also set up their emergency plans. These conferences allow administrators from across the state to compare notes. By engaging in discussion with like-minded people who might have approached this issue from other perspectives, you can get other ideas that might improve your own.

Evaluate the Plan

Finally, you should consider hiring an independent disaster preparedness consultant to go over your plan from another perspective. Often these consultants worked in the field for quite some time and moved into consulting so they could help others in the field improve their own plans. If your budget allows for such a consultation, this option could be very valuable.

Of course, this isn’t all you can do to prepare your nursing home for a disaster, but it’s a start. If you have even more specific ideas, or if you have a way to improve on these, or even if you would like to share your own successes and failures in emergency planning, feel free to add to the comments below.

This guest post is contributed by Kitty Holman, who writes on the topics of nursing colleges.  She welcomes your comments at her email Id: kitty.holman20@gmail.com.

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