As you know, it is virtually impossible to predict the exact time when a disaster will occur. Many of us can easily put an emergency kit together with a point and a click on an emergency kit website and our kits are delivered to our doorstep within a couple of days. When we send our children off to school we expect that during a disaster or emergency they will be cared for by trained staff regarding their safety, welfare and comfort.
However, how often do we stop to consider the same levels of preparedness for our aging loved ones in their Assisted Living community? The next time you stop in for a visit consider asking some emergency preparedness questions. Their answers may calm or concern you. Either way you’ll be able to make a plan of what role you will have in the event of an emergency and most of all what your expectations are of the community during a crisis.
Does the community have an emergency plan — and know that it works? An assisted living home must have a disaster preparedness and emergency evacuation plan approved by the state’s licensing agency.
Will the community be adequately staffed, no matter what?
There have been lockdowns of public transportation during weather events, terrorism threats or other crises. The staff’s ability to travel from their home to the community may be constrained by the emergency. It’s important to know if there’s a plan in place for adequate staffing during an emergency.
Will there be enough emergency supplies?
Find out how the facility stays supplied during an emergency and if staff prepare in advance. Will there be enough food and water? Are food and water supplies kept fresh? Are there extra medications for residents who will need them? Are there emergency generators and are they in working order?
Are there protocols to maintain clear lines of communication?
Find out in advance what the chain of communication is between staff and families of residents, and know where to look for updates. Some senior living organizations have centralized offices that collect information from individual communities experiencing a disaster and post it on the main company website or distribute it through emails to residents’ families.
How does the staff address residents’ worry when regular routines are disrupted?
Often when we walk by the rooms of assisted living residents, we see they are relaxing while watching their favorite TV shows. However, during a crisis seeing graphic images over and over on the TV can become overwhelming for older adults, especially for those with dementia. Inquire about what your loved one’s senior living community will do to help pass the time. Will they play games, tell stories or offer other engaging activities?
What are the community’s emergency evacuation plans?
Does the community have arrangements with other facilities in the event the building becomes inhabitable after a fire, flood or other disaster? When your loved one moves into a community you’ll want to know whether it has this type of arrangement and with whom.
Knowing what a senior living community’s emergency procedures are and how to communicate during an emergency eases your worry and lets you focus on what you need to do at home. At the very least, make sure the facility has the information it will need to contact you, plus alternate ways to reach you if cell phones and telephone lines are down.
For more information about how to prepare, visit National Preparedness or Red Cross.
2017 Cherie Henry and Catherine Camp
Autumn of Life Senior Housing and Advisory Services