Hurricane Irma may be receding into the rear view mirror of history, but if your loved one lives in a nursing home, you may have good reason to worry about the next disaster and what it might bring. It’s suspected that a significant number of the approximately 15,600 nursing homes in the United States are not prepared for disasters, and that the 11 seniors who perished in a South Florida rehab center will not be the last ones to suffer. The executive director of National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, Lori Smetanka, commented about the Florida deaths, saying, “This could have
happened anywhere. It could have been any type of emergency or disaster.”
New evacuation and safety rules were put into effect after the horror that was Hurricane Katrina, when it’s believed that 1,833 persons died, in total. At LaFon Nursing Home in eastern New Orleans, 22 elderly persons died, with 35 more drowning in a St. Bernard Parish nursing home, located right outside New Orleans.
The rules and regulations regarding emergency plans are considered good, but enforcing the rules is the problem. The government often grants multi-year extensions to nursing home operators when it comes to complying with safety issues. Automatic sprinkler systems are only one example. The systems, which are proven to save lives during fires, were made mandatory in 2008. But as 2017 rapidly draws to a close, automatic sprinkler systems still have not been installed in some care facilities.
The inspection process is lacking as well. While 2013 through 2016 produced 2,300 cited violations of the emergency planning rules, a mere 20 citations or so were considered serious enough by the federal nursing home inspectors to be labeled as placing residents in danger. Three examples illustrate how critical the problems can be:
- An El Paso, Texas, nursing home had no plan at all for evacuating patients in wheelchairs down a flight of stairs.
- In Colorado, one nursing home’s courtyard gate was locked, and no one knew the combination to unlock it.
- When a fire occurred at a Chicago nursing home, staff evacuated people farthest from the blaze first, clearly the wrong order in which to help patients to safety.
Those who advocate for elders in nursing homes believe that enforcing the rules is of great concern. Dr. David Marcozzi, a former director of the federal emergency preparedness program for health care and now an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, noted, “If you have not implemented and exercised plans, they are paper tigers. The emphasis from the surveyor has to be ‘Show me how you do this.’”
A lack of staffing is a quiet epidemic in our country’s nursing homes. A 2016 study indicated that one-fourth or more of U.S. nursing homes could be considered seriously understaffed, perhaps dangerously so. Half of nursing homes are understaffed on a daily basis. Staffing becomes an even more urgent concern during a disaster, when workers might not be able to show up. But no national regulations exist that mandate any level of staffing in nursing homes. In Maryland, the minimum staffing requirement is 2.0 hours of care per resident over 24 hours. Many think this number is way too low.
Is Anything Being Done?
In Florida, new rules have been proposed regarding the generators needed to power emergency services for nursing homes; one proposal wants enough emergency power for as many as 120 hours. But one-third of nursing homes in the U.S. have been cited for not inspecting their existing generators weekly or testing them monthly. Nursing homes that violated the regulations more than once total 1,373 in the U.S., according to inspection records.
Perhaps the situation is best summed up by a senior policy attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy named Toby Edelman: “It’s always the same story: We have some pretty good standards and we don’t enforce them.”
Let Down by the Eldercare Industry? Let “The Injury Lawyer” Help You.
When you place a loved one in a nursing home, you are entrusting their well-being and health to a staff that you hope is caring, competent and professional. Unfortunately, many elderly people suffer from various forms of abuse, including harm done by other residents that the staff overlooks or does nothing to prevent. Those in nursing homes can even be evicted without just cause simply because they are too expensive or sick for the corporation running the nursing home. To resolve certain situations and obtain damages owed, you may need caring and compassionate legal assistance for your parent or other relative.
The law offices of Steven H. Heisler act on behalf of personal injury victims, including those harmed by nursing home injuries. Interested in more information on whether you have a valid nursing home injury or damages claim? Contact Baltimore nursing home abuse lawyer Steven H. Heisler today for a free initial consultation at 1-410-625-4878, or use our online contact form.