Over the past year, the United States has suffered from tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and more. Because natural disasters are unpredictable and often quick-moving, an aged care community’s natural disaster plan can play a vital role in keeping staff and residents safe. Three experts have shared best practices with us to help ensure your facility’s natural disaster plan is sound.
The importance of your natural disaster plan
Sheldon Yellen, CEO of BELFOR Property Restoration, the world’s largest disaster restoration and property restoration company, notes that it is essential that aged care facilities have a plan in place. He explains that a well-thought-out plan should answer the following questions:
- How will we safely and effectively handle weather-related emergencies?
- Is there a safe escape route?
- Are there easily accessible disaster go-kits?
- Are there any hazards such as freestanding bookcases or hanging mirrors that can be better secured?
Beyond the practical importance of a contingency plan, Donna Adendorff, LNHA, RAC-MT, research and development consultant for The Compliance Store, explains that these plans are mandatory. “For skilled nursing centers, a natural disaster plan is a participation requirement established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS),” she notes. “Most importantly, this is to ensure the safety and well-being of the vulnerable and fragile residents we care for, our staff and all visitors.”
Yellen also stresses the importance of a communication plan element. This plan would mean that residents or their care managers would know how to contact loved ones in the event of an emergency.
Having a quality natural disaster plan in place can help facilities better manage disasters, should they occur. Michele Mummert, RN, director of research and development for The Compliance Store, highlights the role a plan can play in the event of a disaster.
“While many emergencies are unexpected, some can be anticipated if a facility has carefully assessed its risks,” she says. “A comprehensive and thoughtful plan should help eliminate or mitigate the effects of identified hazards. It also reduces the potential or risk of future losses to your residents, staff, visitors and physical facilities. »
Essential elements of an emergency plan
When it comes to designing or reassessing your emergency plan, it is essential to ensure that it contains certain key elements. Adendorff refers to the Emergency Preparedness Requirements for Participating Medicare and Medicaid Providers and Providers regulation, which describes four basic elements that apply to the 17 types of providers. These key elements are:
- Risk assessment and contingency planning
- Communication plan
- Policies and Procedures
- Training and testing
Best practices for creating or revising your natural disaster plan
When creating or revising a plan, it’s important that facility management leads, guides, and directs the plan, Mummert notes. “To do this, they need to develop a process to manage two-way communication on the plan with all levels of staff. The involvement of all staff and increased awareness of the plan are beneficial when a ‘real’ disaster occurs. »
She notes that facilities should also connect with community partners who would be involved in the plan, including local emergency management agencies, local health care coalition, public health, police departments, law enforcement agencies. transportation, the National Guard, utility companies, waste management companies, fire departments and medical providers like local hospitals and emergency services.
When you’re creating your plan, it’s also important to make sure you have the supplies you need to implement that plan. Yellen suggests creating disaster relief kits that include items like water, non-perishable food, flashlights, batteries and whistles.
“Also, consider modern items that individuals might need, such as laptops and phone chargers,” he advises. “It’s also important to determine if residents need extra eyeglasses or hearing aids, batteries for medical supplies, prescription medications, or a medical record in a waterproof container, in addition to any important documents. “
“Don’t forget your nearby human resources,” advises Adendorff. “Maybe it’s the pastor of the church next door or your neighbor across the street who likes to hunt. They may have a backhoe or towing device on their truck that could help when a disaster scatters debris and trees, blocking safe passage for your residents.
She recommends that facilities develop and maintain relationships with their neighbors and community members. “They can make a difference in difficult times. Know how to reach your human resources in the event of a claim. The planning process and the resulting relationships are just as important as the resulting document.
Adendorff notes that there are many resources available to help with disaster planning. CMS provides many resources, including a template and a checklist. “Your local health care coalition is also a very helpful resource,” she notes. “The strength of healthcare coalitions is that they reflect the unique needs and characteristics of each local jurisdiction.
“CMS requires facilities to complete two exercises annually and document their participation,” says Adendorff. “CMS and the National Healthcare Preparedness Program have requested that healthcare coalitions help provide documentation to support verification of emergency preparedness training and testing requirements for healthcare facilities qualified nurses.”
Once the plan is created, Mummert advises keeping it in a location that is accessible to staff 24 hours a day. Adendorff says staff need to know the location of the plan and also need to be aware of its basic elements and defined roles.
Hopefully, your facility will never need to rely on your natural disaster plan, but taking the time to create a quality, detailed plan can help your staff deal with the unexpected.