For those who observe historic anniversaries, you will note that seven years ago today, Hurricane Katrina crashed ashore in the gulf, changing and ending hundreds of thousands of lives. One small story, lost in many ways in the media focus on places like the Superdome, was how the elderly and disabled were assisted—or how efforts to do so failed. It’s a good time to ask: is Kentucky fully prepared to assist or evacuate our vulnerable residents in the event of a natural disaster? And look: before you decide that we in the Bluegrass State do not have to worry about a hurricane (probably true), did you know that Kentucky is the 8th most likely state to experience a major natural disaster—ranking even higher than Louisiana?
Huffingtonpost noted today a story, as yet another hurricane approaches the Gulf shore, of a nursing home evacuation and its problems. Clearly, the Gulf Shore area has learned a great deal in those seven years. It looks a great deal better than stories like this one from the Houston Chronicle, discussing how only one third of nursing home residents were evacuated at all during the approach of Katrina in 2005; or this horrific story from USA Today, discussing one particular nursing home’s 35 deaths during Katrina, and the ensuing criminal indictments.
Kentucky has both an emergency management system, and a Cabinet whose job is, theoretically, the protection of residents of long-term care facilities. A recent report of the Department of Health and Human Services has indicated, however, that disaster planning for nursing homes is inadequate, and in many ways has not gotten better since Katrina. A New York Times story from May of this year discussed an alarming finding that, of twenty-four nursing homes surveyed, 22 did not have a plan for handling medications and medical records in the event of disaster.
What can you do, as the family member or caretaker for a loved one residing in a long-term care facility? I am indebted to the same New York Times story for pointing out a helpful list of questions to ask about emergency preparedness and nursing homes, which you can read here.
We all remember the devastation of this spring’s tornadoes in Southern Indiana and Eastern Kentucky, especially Morgan County. If there is any good to come of this horrible event, perhaps it is to remind us that our fine state is vulnerable to Katrina-type disasters, to remember to watch out for our vulnerable citizens and be aware of what is—or is not—being done to protect them.