Disasters strike anytime, anywhere and do not discriminate as to who is touched by devastation, not even our most vulnerable citizens—residents of long-term care facilities. Oklahoma people with disabilities may need to take additional precautions in order to be ready for expected and unexpected winter weather events.
Preparing for and responding to emergencies that affect individuals living in long-term care facilities requires coordinating the work of many. While long-term care ombudsman supervisors/volunteers are not first responders, they can play an important role in emergency planning and response. Ombudsman programs can resolve complaints, protect rights and promote access to services for residents before, during and after emergencies and disasters.
Significant weather events such as tornadoes, at times, have devastated long-term care facilities and their residents across the country. Individual incidents—fires, explosions, floods, power outages and other disruptions—have forced residents to relocate. Both state and local ombudsman programs have been called on to assist with preparation and response, often without the benefit of clear guidance or policies. The fact that ombudsman programs have risen to the challenges of emergency preparedness and response without clear guidance is evidence that the office staff are concerned, committed and willing to assist.
Can you imagine? The television meteorologists are calling for people to take shelter. Tornado sirens across counties are blaring warnings. While most people are hunkering down in closets, bathtubs and storm shelters praying that the violence will pass without incident, long-term care staff are rushing to gather their charges in a windowless hall or room. Many must be pushed in wheelchairs, some directed on walkers and others carefully guided to the safest place in the building. Remember, cold weather can stress respiratory and circulatory systems making it more difficult to travel or complete tasks that require physical exertion.
Oklahoma is listed as one of the top 10 disaster-prone states as ranked by historical statistics on major disaster declaration. Disaster preparedness is a question for family members to ask of facilities when dangers exist. Almost all facilities have a generator or access to one maintaining the operations needed for residents. Each ombudsman supervisor/volunteer is available for assistance during severe weather outbreaks and disasters.
During Hurricane Katrina, the vulnerability of nursing home residents came to the forefront when 35 residents at one nursing home located outside of New Orleans died during the hurricane. Some drowned in their beds. A Houston Chronicle investigative journalist revealed that at least 139 nursing home residents died during the hurricane or because of it.
A well-executed evacuation plan is a top priority. Long-term care facility owners and administrators are federally required to have an emergency plan in place with staff training. All staff members should be aware of their roles in case of a major emergency such as tornadoes or power outages, such as the following:
* The need to identify residents with wristbands or nametags.
* Include medication lists
* Having a supply of potable water
* Ensure transportation for the residents to evacuate and a place to evacuate to
* Transportation of wheelchairs and medical equipment
* Working with local emergency coordinators to decide about evacuation in a timely manner
* Staff’s ability to handle illness or death during an evacuation
* Training of all staff members to remain calm and follow the learned procedures are key in saving the lives of nursing home residents during a disaster.
For more information on long term care or to enquire about the Ombudsman program call or email Gail Wilcox, Ombudsman Supervisor, SWODA Area Agency on Aging at 580-562-4882.