Is Your Loved One’s Nursing Home Prepared for an Emergency?

Emergency plan document

Nursing homes have a legal obligation to be prepared for an emergency, and whether they follow preparation guidelines can mean the difference between life and death for their residents. Nursing home residents are often difficult to evacuate in an emergency. Even a small oversight could lead to a large-scale tragedy. Failing to be prepared for a crisis could be considered negligence on the part of a nursing home.

Nursing Homes Must Have Emergency Plans

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently released changes to the requirements for emergency preparedness plans. Some of these revisions reduced nursing homes’ legal requirements to plan for possible crises. However, by no means does this relieve a nursing home from being ready for an emergency. They must still have a plan and periodically review it to ensure that it is effective.

There are occasional tragedies in which nursing home residents are injured or perish in accidents or natural disasters. An example that may be familiar to local Illinois residents is a power outage in extreme winter weather. Nursing homes need backup generators and power supplies to ensure that critical machines keep working if the facility loses power. They also need plans to quickly evacuate and find safe places for their residents. An evacuation may need to be performed in a matter of hours to protect the lives of vulnerable seniors.

Emergency Preparedness Speaks to the Quality of a Home

Emergency preparedness is an issue that families should address with nursing homes, especially when they are looking for a new place for their loved ones to live. How a nursing home plans for an emergency and the extensiveness of its procedures could speak about the quality of care and the thoroughness of the nursing home. Families should expect clear answers that show that the nursing home has thought through multiple levels of contingencies.

For starters, families need to ask the right questions that go beyond generalities. Nursing homes will often claim that they are prepared for an emergency. However, gaps in the plan may emerge when they are pressed for specifics. This is why families need to drill down for details as opposed to asking broad open-ended questions.

Nursing Homes Need Staff to Deal with Emergencies

Staffing is one of the most important indicators of whether a nursing home is prepared for an emergency. Families need to demand concrete numbers to help ensure the safety of their loved ones. Understaffed nursing homes are usually the most unprepared. Many facilities artificially cut back on staff to maximize their profits. Even if they have a detailed emergency plan, they may not have the staff members necessary to act quickly when the situation calls for it. Families should carefully review the quality ratings that nursing homes receive, especially in the area of staffing.

Nursing homes receive annual inspections from the federal government. These inspections look for safety violations, and the government reviews emergency preparedness. If the facility is not able to properly respond in an emergency, the government would cite the nursing home, and may even hit them with a fine. Families should ask about inspection findings and whether the nursing home has been cited in the past. They can also review this information on their own on a federal government website. In addition, they can do a Google search, which may discuss previous emergencies at that nursing home.

Families Should Focus on the Evacuation Itself

Families should also particularly focus on evacuations. The best thing is for the nursing home to prevent these in the first place. While facilities are required to have at least 96 hours of backup power in an emergency, these systems may fail. It is important to know how the nursing home generates backup power. This is especially important in the brutal Illinois winter. Medications must be stored at the proper temperature, and oxygen and life support systems must continue to function.

Finally, families should focus on the mechanics of an evacuation. For instance, the home should be asked how they will physically get the residents out of the building in the event of a fire. In addition, families should inquire about where nursing home residents would be moved if their facility becomes unlivable. Most of these residents cannot be moved back to their family’s homes, and they will need to live at another facility while their own nursing home fixes the emergency condition.

Nursing homes can be legally liable for what happens to their residents in an emergency. A nursing home abuse lawyer can review an injured resident’s case to help determine whether an injury claim or lawsuit should be filed against the nursing home.


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