Caring for Nursing Home Residents During Natural Disasters

Several major storms have hit the east coast of the U.S. this year, sending rains and floods to Maryland. September saw substantial flooding in parts of the state because of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, with rising flood waters washing away bridges and roads and threatening major population areas. Towns along the Susquehanna River in particular faced dangerous flooding. Residents of a nursing home in Havre de Grace, where the river meets Chesapeake Bay, had to evacuate in early September when floods threatened to engulf their facility. In all, 165 residents evacuated to other nearby facilities. This raises the question of how nursing homes can best ensure residents’ safety in such dire situations.

A nursing home in Chestertown, Maryland, located across the Susquehanna River from Havre de Grace, took in some of the evacuated residents, according to the Chestertown Spy. Administrators at the Chestertown facility learned of an SOS to all area facilities through Lifespan, a mid-Atlantic network of senior care providers. They took in sixteen evacuees, who remained at the facility for about three days, arriving on a Thursday night and returning to Havre de Grace Monday morning. Fortunately, the Susquehanna did not flood enough to threaten the nursing home, and residents were able to return without injury or serious incident.

Who has responsibility for the safety and well-being of residents during such emergency situations? Such determinations depend heavily on the individual circumstances. The basic facts on the ground may prevent well-meaning caregivers from providing adequate care, but a fundamental obligation to take reasonable steps to ensure safety remains. Even in a critical evacuation, caregivers must take all steps possible to provide necessary care. Residents needing a high level of care, including ongoing monitoring and medication, may face significant risks in emergencies, and nursing home staff must do whatever is reasonably within their power to provide for those needs. This usually involves transfer to another facility that can provide needed care. The facility taking custody of residents takes on responsibility for their well-being, but residents’ home facility still bears responsibility for seeing that they make it somewhere that can adequately care for them.

The situation in Maryland turned out well, but not all recent disasters have had positive outcomes. The most famous example, of course, is 2005’s Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Thirty-two residents of a nursing home in St. Bernard Parish died when flood waters hit their home after the hurricane made landfall. While many heroic stories of rescues and escapes came out of that area, residents of one home simply did not evacuate in time, with tragic results.

Nursing home residents and their loved ones can take steps to protect themselves prior to such events. Nursing homes should have an emergency management plan for possible natural disasters. Facilities near the coast may face hurricanes, homes near rivers can face flooding, and any facility in the country can face power outages. Residents and prospective residents should have an idea of where they might go and how care can be provided in a reasonably likely emergency.

Lebowitz and Mzhen, a Maryland nursing home law firm, is dedicated to protecting the rights of nursing home residents against abuse and neglect. If you or a loved one has suffered injury due to nursing home neglect or abuse, contact the firm today to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

October is Long-term Care Residents’ Rights Month in Maryland and around the Country, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, October 19, 2011
Another Nursing Home Negligence Lawsuit for Madison County Home, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, August 25, 2011
Feds Help Families Choose the Right Nursing Home With Improved Website, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, August 19, 2011

Contact Information