Retirement homes and climate change are a deadly combination

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Twelve nursing home patients died in Hollywood, Florida after Hurricane Irma hit in September 2017. These patients died of heat-related causes due to a power outage, the lack of air conditioning and the negligence of the staff and the company. This debacle prompted our Florida politicians to act, demanding back-up generators for most nursing homes and keeping temperatures in a living range of 71-81 degrees.

Fast forward to September 2021, with up to 14 nursing home patients dying in Louisiana due to Hurricane Ida. Why? “Inhuman and dangerous conditions,” according to the Louisiana Department of Health. In this situation, 850 nursing home residents were evacuated to an empty former pesticide warehouse. How could this have happened … again?

Every nursing home in the United States is required to have a formal evacuation plan approved by the state in which it is located. If you stop a stranger on the street and ask, “Do you think it’s a good idea to evacuate 850 medically fragile elderly people to a single warehouse that has no kitchen, no supplies, no generators?” and a bathroom? What do you think they would say? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know the answer. Yet this plan was indeed approved by the state.

Photos included in a class action lawsuit show conditions at a warehouse in Independence, Louisiana, where more than 800 nursing home residents were evacuated during Hurricane Ida.

The owner of the seven nursing homes that evacuated to this one site “failed to provide basic necessities” as required. Owner Bob Dean told a Louisiana TV station: “We only had five deaths in six days and normally with 850 people you will have two a day so we took very good care of the people. . ” It kind of makes you want to sit down and cry. I guess his mom wasn’t one of the dead. But it was someone’s mother, someone’s father.

How about using excuses such as “We didn’t know how dangerous a hurricane could be,” “We didn’t know we were going to lose electricity in such a large area” or “We didn’t know? not that we had to evacuate all seven of our nursing homes ”? Truly? Think of Katrina. These nursing homes were all located close to each other in the hurricane evacuation areas.

Here’s what we know: Climate change and climate disasters are going to keep happening and likely to get worse. This means stronger hurricanes that will affect far more than just coastal states.

Witness flooding in Tennessee, Virginia, New York, New Jersey and New England with Hurricane Ida. Over 46 people have died from the flooding, mostly in the northern states!

We also know that all retirement homes are particularly at risk with oxygen dependent patients and a fragile and needy population. If we tolerate evacuation plans that are woefully inadequate and approved by health departments or other agencies, then who is really to blame?

I am not saying that owners and companies are without liability. They must be responsible. But we, as consumers and advocates for our seniors, must speak out on this issue. We can’t control what other states are doing, but we can ask our politicians to do whatever they can to help any licensed senior citizen facility in the state have a realistic evacuation plan. and carefully checked.

More from Star Bradbury:

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Currently, there is no federal policy requiring stronger emergency plans or mandatory generators. I believe that needs to change. With known supply chain issues – and thousands of people in multiple states clamoring for emergency food, water, transportation, and supplies during any type of natural disaster – why can’t states not coordinate with the National Guard to react proactively and evacuate the elderly before their death, not after?

In Florida in May, 681 nursing homes and 3,127 assisted living facilities were “fully compliant with the law,” meaning their emergency operations plans have been approved and generators are “available.” I can’t help but wonder if we dig a little deeper, what would we find?

What exactly does “available” mean when it comes to getting a generator where and when you need it in the midst of chaos? I know that if I was looking for an assisted living facility or a specialized facility for a loved one, I would ask to see their emergency plan and review every word of it.

It has been four years since Hurricane Irma and the deaths in South Florida. With climate change, we can’t assume that “the perfect storm” isn’t just around the corner. Hopefully our senior communities are ready for next time.

Star Bradbury (www.starbradbury.com) is the owner of Senior Living Strategies in Gainesville.

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