September 2017 was an active one for meteorologists and officials in Florida as Hurricane Irma pounded the state with storms, heavy rain, and massive power outages. Looking back, the Associated Press is asking if Florida Governor Rick Scott was counterproductive when giving his phone number to nursing homes during the storm.
According to reports, as Hurricane Irma bore down, Gov. Scott attended a conference call with nursing home administrators across the state. During the call, Gov. Scott gave out his cell phone number and told administrators to call him directly if they needed help. During the storm, 120 phone calls were made. Phone records released in January 2018 show that almost all of the calls were routed to voicemail before being returned.
The Associated Press has since reached out to 29 of the 120 callers, and found that Gov. Scott’s offer to personally help may actually have been counterproductive and slowed down efforts to get help. It is further suggested that the Governor’s offer to help was unrealistic and potentially dangerous as it set expectations that he could not personally fulfill.
Overall, the Associated Press found that around one-third of those who called Gov. Scott for help were satisfied with the help they received. Around one-third was unsatisfied, and the other third was neutral.
Barriers to Personal Help for Nursing Homes
There were several barriers to Gov. Scott’s efforts to personally intervene and help Florida’s nursing homes. First, most of the calls made to his cell phone were in attempt to get power restored. Unfortunately, Florida residents are served by municipal and private electric companies, not companies directed by the state. Therefore, the Governor can request certain nursing homes be made a priority, but the Governor’s office has no direct authority.
Another barrier was the fact that there was only one number given, a number that was not directed to a call center or help desk. Just a single number in such a chaotic situation is almost guaranteed to create a “bottleneck” effect and be inefficient. The fact that it was the Governor’s cell phone number made it even worse.
Because calls were made to a single line, a system was created where an aide would listen to the voicemails, write down important information, and email the information to other aides who would then contact the caller or get them in touch with the needed party. The voicemails were then erased to make room for additional calls. There seems to be some concern that this process was not as quick or efficient as it could have been had there been a formal call center set up.
Aftermath of Hurricane Irma Significant for Officials
Not only was Hurricane Irma significant because of the damage and chaos the storm wreaked, but officials also have felt a significant affect. In the months following the storm, officials have been aggressively looking into how the storm was managed, particularly safety and security concerns about Florida’s nursing homes.
Several investigations are still pending related to incidents of nursing home residents becoming injured or dying during the storm for various reasons. These investigations are questioning preparedness, management during the storm, and response during and after the storm.
Experts are also encouraging Florida officials to create a formal state hotline for nursing homes to use during extreme weather. The Executive Director of Florida International University’s Extreme Events Institute is one of the individuals making this strong recommendation. As months have passed, numerous outlets have discussed emergency preparedness plans and how to increase safety and security during extreme weather events. As Florida prepares to vote for a new Governor, these issues are at the forefront of many involved in politics.
Nursing Home Safety Precautions
There are some safety precautions that nursing homes can take in the event of an extreme weather event or other disaster. These include preparedness measures like:
- Shelter in Place: Evacuating nursing homes is not an easy task. Administrators must carefully weigh their options before deciding an evacuation is necessary. An alternative is preparing to shelter in place. To do so, nursing homes should assess what sort of supplies, staffing, and other resources may be needed and secure a plan to have those in place.
- Plan for Power: Power outages create many problems and safety risks in nursing homes. Power outages create dangers from lack of lighting, heating or cooling deficiencies, inability to serve meals, refrigeration, and medication administration. Nursing homes can plan for power by having a generator on-site and ensuring that staff know how to properly use it.
- Collaborate with the Community: When disaster strikes, it can be helpful for nursing homes to collaborate with their community for help. Collaboration will depend on the nursing home’s location, as rural facilities will have much different needs than more urban facilities. Nursing homes can prepare for disaster by collaborating and making plans that include local hospitals, emergency management agencies, and local law enforcement.
- Prepare for the Unexpected: Some parts of the United States are undoubtedly at a higher risk for weather events like snow, hurricanes, or tornados. Especially in these areas, it is important to prepare for the unexpected. Consider weather events that may occur and try to anticipate what unexpected events may arise. Then, plan accordingly. Doing so can mitigate damage and boost an emergency preparedness plan.
Protecting the Legal Rights of Nursing Home Residents
While nursing homes have a responsibility of being prepared and properly managing disaster, it is also important for the families of residents to be aware of their role in emergency preparedness. Families should also consider an emergency preparedness plan in the event that they want to evacuate their loved one, shelter in place, or lend a hand after disaster strikes.
It is also advisable for families to be aware of the legal rights of their loved one. Nursing homes have certain duties to care for residents and ensure their safety. Families should be aware of these duties and what actions (or lack thereof) may constitute a violation of their loved one’s legal rights.