The tragic deaths of residents in a Florida nursing home after Hurricane Irma highlighted the difficulties of providing care for the elderly in the face of a natural disaster. However, an NPR examination of federal inspection records shows that many nursing homes lack even the most basic of emergency preparation plans.
In the past four years there have been 2,300 violations of emergency-planning rules at nursing homes around the country, but only 20 of these were deemed serious. Even repeated lapses resulted in no consequences as evidenced by the 1,373 nursing facilities that received more than one citation for failing to inspect generators. More than one-third of U.S. nursing homes have been cited for negligent generator maintenance.
Examples of inspections that showed a lack of emergency preparedness include the El Paso, Texas facility that had no plan for evacuating wheel-chair bound residents down the stairs of the home, and a Colorado nursing home with a locked courtyard gate that no one knew the combination to. Experts say that in addition to checking for a home’s emergency plans, inspectors should also observe the staff executing it to make sure it is effective. Regulations also require practicing emergency plans with unannounced staff drills. A former director of the federal emergency preparedness program describes emergency plans that have never been tested and implemented as “paper tigers.” Regulations also require practicing emergency plans with unannounced staff drills.
More than half of California nursing homes have received citations for either failing to train staff for emergencies, or not having a detailed, written plan in the event of fire or severe weather. Facilities have also been cited for not having policies regarding missing residents. One-quarter of all nursing homes in Texas were also cited.
Safe temperature levels for residents was another issue for 536 nursing homes that received citations over the past four years. Records indicate that of the 536, 15 were considered serious and in two cases patients were harmed. The recent fatalities in Florida are being investigated to determine if they were heat-related.
A senior policy attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy says the problem with the regulatory system is that it misses many issues, and those it does identify are not dealt with seriously enough. Even if the standards are adequate, if they are not enforced the same tragedies repeat themselves. In the wake of recent natural disasters, many are calling for more stringent rules and harsher penalties for nursing homes that do not comply.
At Davis & Brusca, LLC we are dedicated to fighting for the rights of the most vulnerable members of our society – those who need long term care in nursing home facilities. If you or someone you love has experienced negligent care, call us at 609-786-2540 to speak with one of our experienced New Jersey nursing home abuse lawyers about your legal options. You can also contact us online to schedule a free and confidential review of your case in our Princeton or Trenton offices.