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 Elderly Evacuation During Natural Disaster A Major Concern, Poll Finds

Thirty percent of Americans do not feel comfortable that their elderly relatives will be safely evacuated during a natural disaster, a recent Healthcare Ready poll has found. And polling shows that Americans fear natural disasters more than terrorism, global pandemic, or cyber-attacks combined.
History proves there is reason to be concerned. As a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2007, 35 residents at St. Rita’s skilled nursing center, located in New Orleans, died because of nonexistent evacuation plans. Luckily these fatalities can be avoided, Healthcare Ready, which seeks to provide solutions and identify best practices for health care preparedness and response, would argue.
“As with all specialized populations, the elderly population requires special considerations during a natural disaster,” says Nicolette Louissaint, Healthcare Ready’s director of programming. “Ensuring the safety of our elders means we have to plan for their specific needs before a disaster hits.” Louissaint suggests taking measures like creating an emergency preparedness kit and equipping elderly loved ones with nonperishable food.
The nationwide poll of more than 1,100 randomly selected adults found that only one in four Americans have discussed emergency plans with their loved ones. These discussions can prove vital for the safety of elders. During a disaster, “hospitals may not be equipped to handle questions about managing health concerns,” says Emily Lord, executive director of Healthcare Ready. Proactive planning is key when it comes to safeguarding elderly loved ones, she says. Making a plan to refill essential prescriptions or recharge life-saving medical devices can ensure days of survival during a major crisis.
Healthcare Ready suggests that Americans keep a written list of prescriptions, prepare an emergency kit, and discuss evacuation plans for elderly and frail family members or neighbors who may need help to improve their chances of safety during disaster situations.
For families looking to place a loved one in a nursing center, it is important to be aware of the care center’s preparedness plan. “Families should be sure to ask about the emergency plans that are in place,” says Louissaint. “Also, ask about the facility’s plan to move individuals in wheelchairs.”
For providers, the saying “practice makes perfect” applies. Practicing an evacuation plan regularly can ensure that all staff are prepared to handle the responsibility of an emergency situation. Providers should also consider their relationships with the public-sector agencies as they will likely need their assistance during an evacuation.
“Communication with your elderly loved ones about their needs will assure you both that they will have what they need should a disaster occur,” says Louissaint. “These measures may very well save lives.”
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