One of the most important things we can do after a major hurricane is learn from it, and our state certainly learned this: We must ensure that our nursing homes and other long-term care centers are fully prepared to keep their residents safe through whatever nature throws their way.
Hurricane Irma in 2017 brought true tragedy, followed by significant reforms. It didn’t take long for the benefits of those changes to become apparent, as Hurricane Michael devastated wide swaths of the Panhandle – with 3,200 residents and numerous staff at 26 impacted nursing homes throughout the region safely cared for throughout the storm, with no injuries to residents.
With the 2019 hurricane season at hand, much attention is appropriately being paid to a new state requirement for generators at nursing homes.
But another important lesson we must remember is that protecting our elderly residents requires much more than just generators.
For months now, members of the Florida Health Care Association have been implementing measures designed to keep our residents safe through this season, and beyond.
All long-term care centers in Florida are currently in compliance with the state’s generator and fuel storage requirements. Many of those centers have generators fully installed, inspected and approved.
Others still working to install their systems have been required to ensure that, through temporary generators or evacuation procedures, their residents are kept safe in the event of a power failure.
It’s important to remember that generators designed to keep a long-term care center operating safely cannot be purchased easily or installed quickly — it takes as long as a year and a half to have a generator and fuel tank custom-made, properly installed and approved by municipal and state inspectors.
That’s why our long-term care centers do so much more to protect the health and well-being of their residents.
With the heightened awareness around power outages and in the midst of generator implementation, our centers have conducted additional planning and training to prepare staff and residents for the potential dangers of hurricane season.
They work throughout the year to perfect emergency power plans, including stronger steps for both evacuation and shelter-in-place scenarios. They conduct disaster drills and ongoing training to test power plans and ensure that all staff members are familiar with the steps to be taken during an emergency.
They communicate extensively with local emergency managers and other officials to ensure that those authorities have a clear understanding of the centers’ residents and the complexities of their medical needs.
To those of us in the long-term care profession, nothing is more important than the well-being of those we care for.
We know that the steps we have taken will go a long way to keep them safe through another hurricane season.
Emmett Reed is executive director of the Florida Health Care Association, based in Tallahassee.