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8 Questions to Ask an Assisted Living Community About Emergency Preparedness

Deb Hipp
By Deb HippNovember 14, 2017
8 Questions to Ask an Assisted Living Community About Emergency Preparedness

When searching for the right assisted living community for your loved one, the list of questions to ask administrators is so long that finding out the details about emergency preparedness may not even make the cut. Yet the level of preparation and readiness – should disaster strike – can be a matter of life and death for residents.

That’s why it’s important to make sure there is a plan in place and to understand how it works.

Questions to Ask About an Assisted Living Community’s Emergency Preparedness Plan

“Each of our senior living communities has a preexisting disaster plan, which outlines specific protocols for preparing for and responding to different types of emergency situations, says Heather Hunter, Sr. Public Relations Specialist for Brookdale Senior Living, one of the largest senior living providers in North America. “Each plan includes a checklist of actions to ensure we have the right resources at the right time to meet the needs of our residents and associates.”

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Does your loved one’s senior living community have the ability to stay up and running if a hurricane knocks out power or enough trained staff to evacuate residents if a wildfire is blazing toward the location? You need to find out.

“We recommend that family members who have loved ones in assisted living ask the community about their emergency preparedness plan,” says Rachel Reeves, a spokesperson for the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL).

So, where do you begin? The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care recommends asking the following questions:

1. What is the emergency evacuation plan?

Medicare and Medicaid-certified assisted living and nursing home communities are required to have an evacuation plan in place in the event of a natural disaster. A nursing home must tailor its disaster plan to its geographic location and the types of residents it serves. In addition, administrators must review the evacuation plan, train new employees in emergency procedures and hold drills and periodic reviews with staff.

2. What is the plan for sheltering in place?

Sheltering in place is a protective strategy a community may take when no evacuation is ordered. It maintains resident care and limits movement of residents, staff and visitors while staying inside during dangerous situations. “Plans will be different for hurricanes, tornadoes and terrorist attacks,” according to the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care.

3. Are there enough staff to carry out the evacuation plan?

Inquire about staff training procedures for emergency evacuations and whether evacuation drills are practiced during all shifts. “Ask how the community trains staff on the plan and how often staff members practice the plan,” says Reeves.

4. Does the community coordinate with other resources?

“When disasters happen, it’s all hands on deck,” says Hunter. “From helping with transportation needs for a mandatory evacuation to taking calls from families and posting updates on the website and social channels, we all work together in close coordination with the teams on the ground.”

What to find out:

  • Does the assisted living community or nursing home have contracts with local agencies and other businesses to provide transportation or housing for displaced residents?
  • How does the emergency preparedness plan coordinate with city, county and state emergency management?
  • If other businesses in the area contract with the same transportation company, will that business have enough vehicles or enough space to handle the total number of residents?

5. What will be the family’s role in an emergency?

Family members should ask how the community plans to communicate with them during an emergency to keep them updated on what’s happening with the center and their loved one, says Reeves.

Questions may include:

  • How and when will staff notify family members about evacuation plans?
  • How can family members help in an emergency situation?
  • Is there a backup phone number to call for information during an emergency event such as a natural disaster that may disable phone service?
  • Should family members come to the community to assist in an evacuation?

6. How does the community discuss its emergency preparedness and evacuation plan with residents?

Community staff should share their emergency and evacuation plan with both residents and family members.

7. How will residents be identified during an evacuation?

Senior living communities should ensure that each resident has an intact identification wristband or equivalent identification, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. There should also be a process in place to track each resident at the new destination during an evacuation.

8. How will the community safeguard and transport medical information in an evacuation?

There should be a plan in place to deal with electronic medical records and clinical information systems, according to the American Health Information Management Association.

The disaster plan should include:

  • Provisions for a backup system and off-site access such as hosting, corporate storage and retrieval for access to health records during emergency situations.
  • Recovery of health records damaged by fire, flood or other destructive events.
  • Recovering healthcare records on different types of storage media.

Learning about an assisted living or nursing home’s emergency preparedness plan should be at the top of your list when checking out any senior living community.

A residence without an organized and practiced emergency and evacuation plan in place isn’t anywhere you want your family member to be during the next natural disaster.

What does your family’s emergency preparedness plan look like? We’d like to hear the details of your plans in the comments below.

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Deb Hipp
Deb Hipp

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