You might have heard about the recent Springhouse Assisted Living fire in Pikesville, Md. or the flood at the Concordia of South Hills assisted living community in Mount Lebanon, Pa. Fortunately, no one was injured at either because the facilities had an emergency preparedness plan and arrangements to shelter their residents.
But if your parents live in an assisted living facility, nursing home or an independent living community, stories like those may make you wonder: How safe would they be if there was a flood, fire, power outage? And how well do their facilities protect them from potential burglaries and thefts?
Assisted living, skilled nursing and independent living facilities must conform to government safety standards for fire codes and other emergencies. But many states lack strict regulations for emergency preparedness.
(MORE: A Starter Guide for Assisted Living)
That’s why it’s important for you to do some research to ensure your parents’ facility is prepared for an emergency or try to get the place’s policies changed if it’s not. Here’s how:
Stop by the management office to get details about the facility’s emergency plans. Find out how new staff are trained about the plan and how often the employees are updated.
You’ll want to see a chronological timeline: how the facility accounts its residents’ needs for food water and shelter and what it would do to be certain everyone has their necessary medications.
Additionally, is there a backup person in charge of fires, floods and other emergency situations? Make sure someone is always available to be in charge, who is aware of the plan and can implement the plan if necessary. If the primary and backup administrators are not available, what is the fall back plan and who is responsible for initiating the procedure?
(MORE: What Would Your Loved One's Residence Have Done?)
The Assisted Living Federation of America has an emergency preparedness toolkit which outlines suggestions and standard procedures for assisted living facilities and other senior communities. This is a great starting point and can help you know what to ask.
Power outages can happen anytime, of course, but they can be particularly serious during natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornado and blizzards.
Ask the facility management if they have one or more generators to restore power. Many facilities in areas that aren’t prone to power outages don’t think to have a backup power generator.
Also, see if there is a redundant generator in the event the first generator fails. Many hospitals, 911 center and other facilities providing crucial services do.
Find out how much extra food would be on hand. There should be a minimum of three days worth, according to federal emergency recommendations.
In the event a high-risk storm or other natural disaster approaching, would the facility plan to increase its food reserve? And if it runs out, what’s the plan to get more?
Water is essential in an emergency, because if water is cut off, there are generally no other ways to get it other than through outside sources.
Federal guidelines suggest that facilities set aside several freezers simply to hold frozen bags of water. These frozen bags can serve many purposes such as keeping food and medications cold, cooling overheated residents and providing water to the residents and staff once the bags melt.
You’ll also want to know: Does the facility have a backup reserve of filtered water and how long will it last? Federal emergency guidelines recommend having at least a week worth of water for each resident.
Fire and Flood Safety
Fire and floods are among the most common issues among senior communities.
Ask the facility for its evacuation plan for either of these emergencies. There should be an area where residents can safely evacuate.
The local Department of Health can tell you if the facility has had any violations. If you find there have been, you may want to consider helping your parents find another place to live.
Thefts and Burglaries
Here, you’ll want to learn about what the facility does to protect residents from staffers, as well as outsiders. Keep in mind, staffers routinely go in and out of residents’ rooms.
Thefts and burglaries are of particular concern if your parents have memory issues, such as Alzheimer’s. That’s because they may be unaware a theft has occurred or unable to make an accurate accusation. Consequently, if your parents have cognitive issues, it’s wise to leave their valuables with other family members or at a secure location, such as a bank lockbox.
Most senior-living communities carry bonds or general liability insurance to pay for theft in their facilities. But often, charges must be pressed and there must be a conviction in order to get the stolen items — or their value — returned.
So take some precautions and make an inventory of your parents’ personal items. That way, you’ll know if anything goes missing.
To help ensure against outside intruders, check to see that the facility’s doors are locked and require either a code or a key fob/entry card to enter. The most secure facilities have a full-time guard sitting at the front and any other entrances, verifying identities of the visitors and people exiting.
You may find this kind of security a hassle when you go to see your mom and dad, but the peace of mind that you and they will have is well worth any annoyance.
Jacob Edward is the founder and manager of Senior Planning in Phoenix, Ariz., which has helped many Arizona seniors and their families navigate the process of long-term care planning.