Brookdale, Sunrise Share Best Practices for Emergency Evacuations in Senior Living

All senior housing communities hope they will never have to put their emergency evacuation plans into effect, but the unfortunate reality is that natural disasters happen.

Recent events from fires to floods across the U.S. have sent some communities reeling in response, but those with well-planned emergency evacuations have avoided their own disasters in the wake of these unfortunate natural events.

Care settings that receive reimbursement from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) had to comply with new Emergency Preparedness rules starting in mid-November 2017, yet for many other senior housing organizations across the nation, it is up to the individual communities to adopt and shape their best practices when it comes to emergencies, while adhering to state and local rules.


Staff from Brentwood, Tennessee-based Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) and McLean, Virginia-based Sunrise Senior Living shared some of their experiences relative to emergency evacuations during a recent conference panel at the 2018 Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference in San Diego. Here’s what they relayed in the way of best practices and lessons learned.

1. Make plans for residents and staff

Taking care of residents in a natural disaster is an obvious priority. But staff, whose homes may be at stake and whose families may be displaced, also need to remain a consideration.


Following a destructive hurricane, an impacted community learned this firsthand, recalled Tonya Cloutier, director of district operations for Brookdale Senior Living.

Once residents moved back into one of the impacted communities, for example, the company helped connect employees with local realtors to help with apartment searches, and also worked with organizations to help raise money for families of workers.

“That builds engagement,” Cloutier said. “You have to prepare for what happens to your team members. There are a lot of our front line [staff] who don’t have a back-up plan. Make sure you take care of your teams and make sure you check in.”

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The company also employed Amazon shopping lists to help employees replace some of the essential items that they needed. The links were shared among the company’s entire workforce, who could help contribute by purchasing items as they wished through the network.

2. Keep communicating

There are obvious communications that need to happen in an emergency between providers and residents, providers and staff, and providers and residents’ family members. But communicating with local authorities is also critical, such as monitoring hospital evacuations, and other closures in the area.

Preparing for calls to forward to cell phones in the event that phone lines fail is one measure; setting up a “command center,” as a central point of contact is another, Cloutier noted. Brookdale also has had success with town hall meetings in the community to provide constant communication and feedback to residents during emergencies.

3. Don’t forget the details 

There are basics that go into any emergency prep plan, such as arranging for comfortable accommodations, stocking bottled water and food, and transporting any durable medical equipment, medication and supplies in the event of an evacuation.

What many staff members may not consider is how to keep all of these pieces organized.

“Is it labeled properly? Whose walker is it? Whose wheelchair is it?” Cloutier asked. “Place a label on all DME equipment.”

She also suggests creating a seating chart for residents in the event that they need to travel away from the community on a bus.

“You have to have an organized approach so every resident is accounted for,” she said.

Carla Sanchez, VP of operations, west division at Sunrise Senior Living, noted that ID bracelets can be one way to account for everyone in an emergency. Knowing residents’ names, she said, is extremely important, recalling recent fires that led to the evacuation of the company’s Northern California locations and a situation where staff were meeting displaced residents for the first time.

“We had six buses from other buildings and took residents wherever they could fit. The dining room turned into resident quarters … knowing their names was hugely important,” Sanchez said.

4. Expect the unexpected

A community may not foresee a need for extra supplies, but that doesn’t mean it can’t pre-negotiate with local vendors just in case. Staffing for all residents to be on-site is a prudent plan as well, Sanchez said.

“A lot of families said ‘I will take my loved one home. Whoops, now they need to go back.” The community initially staffed for the residents who were present immediately after the evacuation, only to gain even more.

Planning should also span all areas of the day-to-day lifestyle, from actives to dining. That might include:

  • Meal plans with modified menus, a pre-designated vendor on-call to assist as needed, and all paper goods needed to serve meals off-site.
  • Emotional support and rest for staff.
  • Activities and programming that can be conducted from any location.

When residents return home after an evacuation, it can be an opportunity to embrace the positives of the situation.

“Have a welcome home celebration,” Sanchez says. “The residents love it.”

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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