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Fatal Fires — Alabama Nursing Home Disaster Plans Fall Short

Feb 2, 2014 - Birmingham, Nursing Home Neglect by

Recently, 10 people in Quebec died and another two dozen more were presumed dead following a nursing home fire that broke out in frigid temperatures that thwarted rescue efforts. A resident smoking a cigarette is a possible cause of the blaze. hands2

Meanwhile in Connecticut, the case of Lexington Ins. Co. v. Lexington Healthcare Group, Inc., was recently reviewed by the state’s supreme court, following a dispute over assignation of blame following a 2003 nursing home fire. The blaze resulted in 13 claims of wrongful death and serious bodily injury. Although most of those injured and their survivors had been compensated in various settlements, the case between the nursing home and the insurance company continues to drag on.

Our nursing home negligence lawyers know both of these cases underscore the need for facilities in Birmingham to have solid fire prevention and disaster response plans in place. Failure to have a proper plan or to follow it can be the basis for a nursing home negligence claim in cases where such failure results in injury or death.

Fires aren’t the only concern. There is also the possibility that nursing homes in Alabama could be hit with tornadoes, floods and hurricanes. Administrators have to be prepared for all of it.

Just look at the weather in Birmingham and the recent overnight stranding of thousands of motorists. When your job is to care for dozens of sick and elderly residents, you’d best be prepared for anything.

Unfortunately, a recent report by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reveals substantial gaps continue to exist in nursing home emergency preparedness and response during disasters.

This report indicated that Alabama is among the top 10 states likely to experience natural disasters (alongside Texas, California, Oklahoma, New York, Louisiana, Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas and Missouri). These areas have a combined 1.1 million nursing home residents – nearly 46 percent of the country’s total.

Examining data culled between 2/?p=1007 and 2010, the agency found that many nursing home emergency plans lacked a lot of the provisions that were recommended by experts in these scenarios.

Some of the challenges that nursing homes failed to address in their plans:

  • Unreliable transportation contracts;
  • Lack of collaboration with local emergency management officials;
  • Lack of preparedness for residents who developed health problems as a result of the ensuing conditions;
  • Nursing home ombudsmen who were unable to offer support to residents during and after disasters.

This lack of preparedness is especially concerning considering the uptick of unpredictable weather that many meteorologists say is likely to increase, as it’s linked to climate change.

The government report indicates that about 9 out of 10 nursing homes have plans for handling fires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. They are required to have this under state law. However, 7 out of 10 nursing homes have staffers that are actually trained to execute emergency procedures, as is also required by federal law.

And yet, even those institutions that had disaster plans didn’t address key issues. For example, some failed to indicate how they would make sure there would be enough drinking water for patients and workers. Several more had no plan for how they would make sure there was enough fuel for backup generators (especially important for patients who require machinery to stay alive). Additionally, there were a number of facilities that had no strategy for how it would handle needs of patients with feeding tubes, oxygen or ventilators. In one instance, regulators found that a nursing home directly in a flood plain had no procedure for dealing with floods.

And none of the homes reviewed had undergone a drill with local county or city emergency preparedness managers.

This kind of shortcoming is unacceptable. Unless it’s addressed on a wide scale, we are likely to see more tragedies like those in Quebec and Connecticut.

Additional Resources:

22 seniors missing in Quebec nursing home fire feared dead, Jan. 26, 2014, By Susanna Capelouto and Ralph Ellis, CNN
Lexington Ins. Co. v. Lexington Healthcare Group, Inc., Jan. 28, 2014, Connecticut Supreme Court

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