Senior Living Providers Jump Into Action As Hurricane Matthew Strikes

Hurricane Matthew hit parts of Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina over the Columbus Day weekend, and senior housing providers in the storm’s path executed on plans to keep residents out of harm’s way.

Hurricane Matthew hit in Haiti last week, where it killed an estimated 800 people before heading toward Florida. The storm spared Central Florida a direct hit, but senior living providers were still evacuating in some places and otherwise bracing themselves for the weather and planning for recovery prior to the weekend. As of Monday, the storm’s U.S. death toll had reached 21, and North Carolina still was in the midst of rescue efforts related to severe flooding.

Planning Early

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The hurricane has driven home hat planning for hurricanes months ahead of time is vital to success when a storm hits, explained SVP and Director of Senior Living Management at LCS, Judi Buxo.

The Des Moines, Iowa-based senior living provider has over 130 communities across the country and offers the full continuum of care from independent living to skilled nursing and memory care. A number of communities were affected near Jacksonville, Fla., including Sandhill Cove in Lady Lake and Elan Spanish Springs in Palm City.

“We start planning for any kind of weather emergency in April or May,” Buxo told Senior Housing News. “We have a critical emergency planning checklist that includes shelters and other places to evacuate to, as well as making sure we are stocked up with enough food, water, medication and essentials to last us up to 12 days without power.”

LCS also has a detailed critical emergency plan with details down to how trash will be disposed of should a community be without power for an extended period of time.

“During Hurricane Katrina, we had one community that was without power for 30 days,” Buxo said. “We have plans for if water could be shut off—we look at other areas to get it. For example we would take water from the pools or fill up washing machines to have that water available to flush toilets with.”

Collaboration among different locations also is key in these types of weather emergency situations.

“A number of our communities have more than one location in Florida,” said President and CEO of Florida Argentum, Gail Matillo. “A lot of our communities are using sister communities to move residents to if their area has been evacuated.”

Along with teamwork comes organization and management, Roger Thiele, VP of Administration for the Southeast Division at Brookdale, told SHN. Brentwood, Tennessee-based Brookdale is the largest senior living provider in the nation.

In Florida Brookdale has 34 communities on the east coast of the state. Because of the storm 99 residents needed to be evacuated to a sister community in Florida. Of the other Brookdale communities located on the east coast, four in Georgia required an evacuation.

“We have had evacuations in Florida and South Carolina,” Thiele said as of Friday afternoon. “Two of the communities that had to be evacuated are in Tequesta in Florida and there were about 60 residents in total there. We also had four communities in South Carolina evacuate on buses to Atlanta. Memory care residents went to another community in Atlanta and independent living residents went to full-service hotels.”

Employees During Crises

During a weather emergency, many employees have their own families to worry about as well as their residents in the communities. And when a hurricane strikes, many have to work for 12 hours or more at a time.

“Our staff always has the option to go home to their family. Family comes first,” Thiele said. “But we have seen that many associates want to go [with residents], especially in the cases in South Carolina when we had to move residents to Atlanta. There were 171 residents on nine buses to transport and 42 staff members came along.”

But even when employees are willing to work, adrenaline can only take them so far, Buxo shared. LCS has a list of about 30 people who could come into each community as backup, if needed, and also has transportation available for those employees who don’t stay overnight at the communities.

“At LCS we have a backup team and work in shifts,” she said. “We have teams who want to work around the clock, but rest is extremely important. We allow the first team to do the evacuation and stabilization then we replace that team with a new team of people including executive directors, directors of nursing, nurses, chefs and everything in between.”

The workers dealing with this kind of emergency are also the ones who residents look to if they are scared or uncertain about the outcome of the storm.

When Brookdale residents from the communities in South Carolina arrived in Atlanta, they were greeted with leis around their necks from the local team. One resident from Brookdale’s Palm Coast community spent her 100th birthday evacuating to a new location.

“Instead of just having her close friends from her own community, she was able to celebrate with a larger family of residents,” Thiele said. “We have so much creativity on our teams and the local teams have made it more fun and much less stressful for residents in an otherwise extremely stressful situation.”

Written by Alana Stramowski

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