LTC Lessons Learned in the Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

August 31, 2017 Marina Aslanyan


One of the most viewed — and most distressing — photos revealing the devastation of Hurricane Harvey is from La Vita Bella nursing home in Dickinson, Texas. It shows residents surrounded by chest-high water, waiting to be rescued. It also shows the power of social media. The photo, which went viral, was posted on Twitter with a simple message: "Please emergency services needed at la vita Bella nursing home in Dickinson Texas." And it shows the need for long-term care facilities to have a fail-safe emergency plan (and backup plan) in place.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is already one step ahead of the game. Effective Nov. 16, participating providers and suppliers must comply with new emergency preparedness regulations. The regulations contain four core elements: risk assessment and emergency planning, communication plan, policies and procedures, and training and testing.

As with any natural disaster, the flip side to destruction is that it brings out the best in humanity. Here are a few examples of how the LTC industry is responding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey:

  • The Texas Health Care Association (THCA) has set up an online Hurricane Resource Center. It includes information crucial to healthcare organizations, such as dispensing of prescription medications and dialysis coordination. According to the organization, at least 45 nursing facilities and 49 assisted living communities have been successfully evacuated.
  • The American Health Care Association (AHCA)/National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) and Health Care Association of New Jersey (HCANJ) have sent emails alerting members and concerned individuals as to how they can help.
  • Shad Halston, head of the Florida Assisted Living Association (FALA), said more Florida facilities may choose to evacuate regardless of local orders. In the case of La Vita Bella, Texas officials did not order the evacuation of the area.
  • The Society for Human Relations Management (SHRM) provides workplace weather disaster resources for HR professionals.

So what can your facility do to prepare for the unexpected? Here are several factors to consider:

  • Implement an emergency preparedness plan that includes evacuation procedures.
  • Have a mobile/ESS system to communicate with employees. According to the FCC, when a cellular network is congested with people trying to check on family and friends, text messages to other wireless devices will often go through when calls will not.
  • In terms of HR, keep in mind that employment laws/regulations are still in effect, regardless of a disaster. That means you still must have processes in place to pay employees as scheduled. An automated payroll system can help ensure that it’s “business as usual,” even in the most trying of circumstances.
  • Following a disaster, provide counseling to residents and staff who may have been traumatized by the events.
  • Even if your facility is not directly affected, take steps to reassure and calm both residents and staff.

I still can’t get the image of the helpless nursing home residents out of my mind. For those of us here in New Jersey, images like these bring back painful memories of our own losses at the hand of Hurricane Sandy.

Whether it’s a hurricane, fire, blizzard or a man-made disaster, when it comes to the safety of residents, long-term care facilities must be proactive, not reactive. Fortunately, the La Vita Bella residents survived their ordeal unscathed. Having an emergency preparedness plan is not simply about limiting liability. It’s about doing the right thing for those who entrust their care and well-being to an LTC facility. I am hopeful that, in the wake of this most recent disaster, LTCs will step up their efforts in this regard.

The SmartLinx family sends our thoughts and prayers to our customers whose facilities were impacted by Hurricane Harvey, and to all those who suffered loss.

How can your organization help? This Inc. article outlines nine ways to make a difference.

How can you help the victims of Hurricane Harvey? The Red Cross is a good place to start.

About the Author

Marina Aslanyan

Marina Aslanyan joined SmartLinx Solutions as CEO in January 2014. She provides pivotal perspective on SaaS strategy, organization, operations, and customer service.

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