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Nursing home evacuations during hurricanes proves deadly

On Behalf of | Nov 20, 2012 | Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect

A study on the impact evacuations at nursing homes have on residents is a timely report in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, initially a hurricane that devastated the East Coast, including sections of New York City. The study found dire consequences for nursing home residents when evacuations are required for hurricanes, including defects with government guidelines surrounding the relocation of some patients. The study conducted over a three-year period found an almost 220 percent increase in the mortality specifically with residents who suffer from severe dementia.

It can be difficult enough for families to ensure the care of a loved one suffering from dementia. Add the difficulties of understaffing or the potential for abuse or neglect and a natural disaster can indeed prove fatal. This study finds that nursing home facilities need to revisit their emergency response plans to ensure all patients, including those with some form of dementia are cared for properly during evacuations or “sheltering in place” as some New York City-area nursing homes were required to do during Superstorm Sandy.

The study encompassed 21,255 nursing home residents in the Gulf Coast region over a 30 day period following an evacuation. The study discovered a 158 percent increase in the number of deaths within 90 days following an evacuation. Nursing home neglect or abuse is a serious issue in this country and oftentimes during a natural disaster such as a hurricane residents are uprooted and in some cases treated like second class citizens. This study’s report comes months after a government study found “gaps” in emergency evacuation plans at nursing homes that compromised the health and safety of patients.

One of the lead authors of the study said she didn’t know why these deaths were occurring after evacuations. However, since this is the first study that actually quantifies the number of deaths following evacuations at nursing homes, it does shed some light on the problem emergency evacuations pose on patients. The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America. The problem appears to be addressing the mental health issues of dementia patients as physical safety is already emphasized in government guidelines.

The report also pointed out that 50 to 70 percent of adults living in nursing homes; some 1.6 million patients have Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia-related condition. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when 140 nursing home residents drowned there has been a four-fold increase in nursing home evacuations. Some nursing homes in the Rockaway Beach New York area were told not to evacuate, according to some media reports, while others, such as the Sea Crest Health Care center in Brooklyn did evacuate residents.

Source: USA Today, “Deaths rose after nursing home evacuations,” Janice Lloyd, Nov. 15, 2012

Our New York City law firm assists families with care issues involving loved ones in nursing homes who may have been subjected to abuse or neglect by their caregivers. Please visit our NYC Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect web page to learn more about our services.