Since the April 17 explosion at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas, 14 residents of the nearby West Rest Haven nursing home have died. The home is located just 200 yards from the plant. As flames shot through the plant, the staff put its evacuation plan into effect, having just had a practice two weeks earlier.
According to a Dallas News article, the facility’s windows were blown out and ceilings crumbled as staff and volunteers moved residents to the safety of a nearby football field. Some patients did not have their medications; others were without their oxygen tanks. From the field, they were sent to hospital or other skilled nursing facilities in the area.
While the blast is not directly responsible for the death toll at West Rest Haven, it is credited with adding additional stress to residents who were shaken up or injured by the blast and were eventually relocated to unfamiliar surroundings. West Rest Haven Administrator Rose Ann Morris notes that number of deaths was almost double that of a normal two-month period.
Effects of a disaster are compounded for individuals with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. New surroundings add to the stress and confusion they experience. “It doesn’t take much for these folks to get off the straight and narrow,” Dr. David Dosa , associate professor of medicine at Brown University, told the Dallas News. An expert on emergency preparedness, he has studied the effects of evacuation on residents relocated during hurricanes.
While the blast did not directly cause deaths and West Rest Haven was prepared, the evacuation did upset the routines of sick, frail elderly people by removing them from their comfort zone—from the place they call home.