Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported that 92 percent of long-term care facilities have plans for handling tornadoes, hurricanes, floods or fires and 72 percent have staff members trained in emergency procedures, as required by federal law. This report was issued as a follow up to a 2006 study that found among those facilities that experienced hurricanes, their emergency plans lacked many provisions recommended by experts. In response, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued guidance checklists for emergency planning of healthcare facilities, long-term care ombudsman programs and State survey agencies.
While the subsequent 2007-2010 data analyzed for this report found that most long-term care facilities nationwide met Federal requirements for written emergency plans and preparedness training, many of the identified gaps from the 2006 study remain prevalent. Multiple emergency plans included only about half of the tasks on the CMS checklist. The facilities faced challenges with unreliable transportation contracts, lack of collaboration with local emergency management, and residents who developed health problems. Long-term care ombudsmen were often unable to support nursing home residents during disasters; most had no contact with residents until after the disaster.
The CMS Emergency Preparedness for Every Emergency checklist is an invaluable resource for preparing or revising an emergency or disaster plan. Had the recently-surveyed facilities followed the tool, they would have incorporated measures to ensure an adequate supply of drinking water for workers and residents, and fuel supply for backup generators. Ten of the surveyed facilities had not addressed the need for adequate staffing during emergencies and 15 did not detail how residents’ needs for items such as feeding tubes, ventilators or oxygen would be handled.
The majority of long-term care facilities are not well prepared to handle the effects of a major disaster. The CMS tool should be reviewed and utilized as a starting point when creating or annually updating any healthcare-related emergency preparedness or disaster plan.
RCM&D Healthcare provides risk management consulting services to assist long-term care facilities in identifying and reducing areas of vulnerability within their disaster plans. Efficient emergency preparedness ensures resident safety, mitigates financial exposure, and is an essential part of a long-term care facility’s comprehensive risk management strategy.
Don’t be caught unprepared when a disaster strikes!
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 The New York Times, May 10, 2012, Judith Graham.