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Preparing residents for emergencies

March 23, 2016
by Stan Szpytek
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As skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) that receive funding from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) begin to address enhanced rules on emergency preparedness, all sectors of long-term living and senior services should consider integrating comprehensive programs to improve planning, response and recovery capabilities to adverse events. While rules and regulations vary from state to state for other licensed and unlicensed levels of care including assisted living, supportive care and independent senior housing, robust crisis management and disaster planning programs should be a priority for every community.

As a consultant, my past training and experience as a deputy fire chief/fire marshal allow me to assist long-term living and healthcare clients with their safety and emergency management programs. From what I have seen nationwide, it is clear that this vulnerable sector of our population needs comprehensive programs that use an “All Hazards” approach, as promoted by federal emergency management initiatives, to help provide a safe and prepared environment. Utilizing an All Hazards approach will help organizations of all types get through challenging events that can range from a small fire, power disruption or missing resident to an uncontrolled wildfire, earthquake or monster hurricane.

The first step in implementing an All Hazards emergency management program is buy-in from ownership and senior management. The days of “it can’t happen here” are over. We know that catastrophic events—including acts of terrorism, as the world saw play out in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015—can  happen anywhere and without warning. Ownership and executive management of campus-based, multi-service communities like Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), also called Life Plan Communities, must identify and acknowledge the potential for the various types of emergency situations that can occur.

Embracing an All Hazards approach means understanding the importance of emergency management processes like Hazard Vulnerability Assessments (HVAs) and trusted management protocols like the Incident Command System (ICS) and integrating them into every long-term living (LTC) community’s emergency operation plan, whether doing so is a requirement or not.

Addressing all of the complex components of a compliant, All Hazard emergency management program is not the intention, here. Instead, I will address just a few critical areas of a comprehensive program including training and drills involving residents of LTC communities.

Training the residents

A major variable in an All Hazards emergency management program is the human reaction to a crisis or disaster. Providing staff with training to help promote an appropriate response to an emergent situation is common in the workplace. But, what about the residents’ response to an emergency? How have they been prepared to react or respond appropriately when an adverse event occurs requiring them to either evacuate a building or shelter in place?



Stan Szpytek

President, Fire and Life Safety, Inc.

Stan Szpytek

Stan Szpytek is the president of consulting firm Fire and Life Safety, Inc., in Mesa, Arizona,...