Tuesday, September 12, 2017
With Irma in Florida's rear view mirror (and not a moment too soon), many are focused on what, if anything, should be done differently next time.
For us as attorneys, we should be sure to tell our clients about the importance of having a disaster plan. For clients living elsewhere, whether a long-term care facility or housing specifically for elders, they should be advised to ask a lot of questions. Does the facility have a disaster plan? Get a copy of it. What services does the facility provide to help residents evacuate? In what evacuation zone is the facility located? Does the facility have a back-up generator in the event of a power outage? How does the facility balance having adequate staff on site before, during and after the disaster while simultaneously allowing staff to prepare for the disaster? Does the facility's insurance policy cover property of residents? What services does the facility provide to help residents return after the disaster? What happens if the facility is now uninhabitable? Does the admissions contract provide for any return of the resident's money (this may be more applicable to a CCRC than a SNF or apartment). Will the facility help residents find other suitable housing? What other items would you add to the list?
As part of the news coverage surrounding Irma, the Washington Post ran a story about the risks of evacuating elders. Moving Florida’s many seniors out of Irma’s path has unique risks discusses the research that has been done on the stress of evacuations on elders, noting that some evacuees will die from the stress of evacuation. Whether to go or stay is akin to rolling the dice. On the one hand, those in the path have plenty of advance notice of the approaching storm, but as seen with Irma, the track can (and does) change, so no one knows where it will hit.
If you stay you have risks. If you go, you have risks. As one person quoted in the Washington Post article noted, "[t]his is one of those classic cases of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s a very difficult decision: When you evacuate, there is an inherent body count for frail, older adults...” Because these folks are frail, they need to be evacuated earlier than others might, and based on lessons learned from Andrew and Katrina, there may be more pressure from officials for facilities to evacuate their residents rather than to stay put to weather the storm. Speaking from personal experience, the wait is stressful. It seems to take a long time for the storm to pass over once the go-no go time has passed. Then afterwards, there's the issue of utilities, clean up, services and supplies.
The media aren't the only ones focused on the issues of elders in the path of disasters. The Senate Committee on Aging has scheduled a hearing for September 20, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. on "Disaster Preparedness and Response: The Special Needs of Older Americans"