No matter where your loved one’s assisted living facility is located, there’s the chance of a natural disaster. Federal and state laws require that assisted living facilities have a comprehensive disaster plan in writing. Yet, you should not take it for granted that every facility will have an effective plan in place. When interviewing facilities, try to gain a clear understanding of their disaster plan and their capability to carry out that plan.
First, ask the management if you can review the facility’s disaster plan yourself. If they seem reluctant to grant this request, that by itself is a red flag. You may not be an emergency preparedness expert, but start by using your basic knowledge and common sense to evaluate the plan. Is something obvious missing? Take yourself through a disaster scenario in your mind. Can you spot potential problems? Ideally, when reading through you’ll have the impression that they’ve thought of everything. Asking to see disaster plans at several different facilities will help you start to recognize which plans are better designed.
Evaluate the comprehensiveness of the plan. Does it cover all reasonable possibilities? Any true potential threats should be addressed in this plan. For example: here in California we are not overly concerned about hurricanes, but you would definitely want an assisted living facility to have a plan for earthquakes.
Some of the questions you should ask the facility manager or director are:
- Does the facility cover these plans with the residents and the staff on a frequent schedule? There should be regular reviews and drills that involve both the residents and the staff. What kind of emergency training do staff members have?
- Is someone who is well-versed in the plan and capable of leading staff in carrying it out on site at all times? Is there a plan to increase staff during a disaster? The number of people necessary to support a facility on a day to day basis may be insufficient during an emergency situation.
- Are there disaster kits on site? If so, what is included in these kits and how will they be distributed and used in the event of a disaster? A facility should have disaster kits on hand that provide each person with canned food and water for one week. The kit should also contain candles, matches, flashlights, batteries, and first aid and sanitation supplies.
- Even during an emergency, residents need to continue following their care plans. Ask the facility about their ability to continue without interruption during a disaster. Care plans should be easily accessible.
- How will essential medications be dispensed during and after a disaster? You will want to be sure your loved one can get their medication during disasters.
- Is there a plan for how to notify family members in an emergency?
- How often is the plan updated?
The websites for FEMA and The American Red Cross can provide you with more information about specific types of disasters and improve your ability to evaluate a facility’s preparedness.