How Senior Living Can Prepare for the Next Hurricane Harvey

As local rescue efforts continue in southeast Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, senior housing providers along the Gulf Coast may need to take a closer look at their emergency preparedness plans to ensure that they are ready to handle such crises.

Planning ahead

Many senior housing providers flocked to the Houston area to establish a market presence in recent years. The city is one of seven metro areas accounting for about 30% of all inventory growth in the past year, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). It remains to be seen how these new communities will bounce back following the devastation of Harvey, but preparing a vigorous and thorough emergency plan should be a part of the process for any provider in the region, given the hazardous weather conditions that the location faces every year.

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This was certainly a part of the plan for Methodist Retirement Communities as it established its community, The Crossings, in League City, Texas, according to President and CEO Ron Jennette. League City sits less than five miles northeast of Dickinson, Texas.

Considering this, Jeannette urges providers to not only have an emergency plan in place, but a backup plan as well. In anticipation of Hurricane Harvey, Jennette and his team analyzed the logistics of their community in League City.

“We pulled out our building plans, [and looked] at where are our high spots, where are our low spots and how much storm surge our engineers predicted we can withstand,” Jennette told Senior Housing News. “We had those types of information available for us and that’s what we looked at to assess and decide that we think we can stay in place.”

Apart from this, the community also relied on extra meals from food suppliers for both residents and staff.

“We had our staff, in advance, plan to spend the night, and they’ve actually spent several nights now at our community,” said Jennette.

The community also had a backup plan in place. Jeannette explained that the community had a partnership with Christ United Methodist Church in College Station, and it could migrate residents and staff in case weather conditions got worse.

For Jennette, having a plan for evacuation is crucial, particularly for communities that provide skilled nursing to residents.

“All of us are always worried about evacuating because there is such high risk with people who are sick,” he said.

Constant contact

Vitality Senior Living in Victoria, Texas took this approach, migrating its memory care residents to a Silverado Senior Living community in Austin, and its assisted living residents to a hotel in San Antonio, according to Debbie Howard, vice president of sales and marketing at Vitality Senior Living.

For Howard, establishing strong communication channels between staff, residents and family members was key to ensuring the safety of community members. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the company set up phone lines that were staffed and monitored by team members to answer calls from family members.

Also, not only did the community set up a special pop-up box on its website alerting visitors of its disaster plan, it also took to social media site Facebook to keep community members in constant contact.

“They weren’t just getting accounts of everyone’s [safety], but they were able to see photos,” Howard told Senior Housing News. “We felt like that was the most personal way to express how the residents are doing and what the plans were.”

Methodist Retirement Communities also took to social media to keep team members, residents and family up-to-date.

“That was a good way for us to instantly communicate with staff that weren’t immediately in the eye of the storm; they want to know what their sister communities were up to and if they needed anything so that was our way of keeping them in the loop,” said Alyssa Adam, vice president of marketing at Methodist Retirement Communities.

For Jennette, having an emergency plan in place is just the first step to disaster preparedness. It takes proactive advanced planning and constant review of such plans to ensure safety for all, he explained.

“Be sure that [your emergency disaster plan] is still operational in the way that best serves you today,” he said.

Written by Carlo Calma

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