Nursing homes and other places where elderly people reside must be accounted for in emergency planning. Sadly, the main reason this is top-of-mind is because eight Florida nursing home residents died during Hurricane Irma when a power outage knocked out the air conditioning system. With no air conditioning, and internal temperatures hovering around the mid-90’s, some of the residents succumbed to heat exhaustion.
Why Nursing Homes are Vulnerable
Facilities like nursing homes, hospitals and other locations where elderly people live or congregate must be first in line for the restoration effort because elderly people are more vulnerable to having problems in extreme environments. This is because as we age, our immune systems become weaker and it becomes more difficult for our bodies to handle extreme temperature swings (among other things).
In the case of Hurricane Irma, the issue was extreme heat, but any extreme temperature situation can be problematic for the elderly. Whether we’re talking Florida in early September or Maine in mid-February, power outages that prevent internal climate control can produce fatal results.
This is why nursing homes in many states, including Florida, are required to file emergency plans and evacuation protocols. Unfortunately, this is not enough – even the Florida nursing home with the eight fatalities conducted an emergency exercise less than a year beforehand.
No, it is not enough for these types of facilities to have a plan and conduct drills. In conjunction with the local communities, electric utilities must ensure that nursing homes and similar facilities are designated as high-priority restoration targets in emergency plans.
Let’s hope this sad situation provides something akin to a wake-up call. If you’re not sure whether or not your emergency plan gives top restoration priority to nursing homes and similar buildings, now would be a good time to check.