The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on "Disaster Preparedness and Response: The Special Needs of Older Americans" today. The hearing came on the heels of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which resulted in the deaths of at least nine nursing home residents in Florida. Chairman Collins began the hearing by acknowledging the tragic loss of life, and noting that there need to be concrete solutions.
The Senate Aging Committee invited Karen DeSalvo (Former Health Commissioner City of New Orleans), Kathryn Hyer (Professor/Director Policy Center School of Aging Studies/Florida Policy Exchange Center on Aging, University of South Florida), Paul Timmons Jr. (CEO/President Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies), and Jay Delaney (Fire Chief/Emergency Management Coordinator City of Wilkes-Barre – Bureau of Fire) to testify. All witnesses provided testimony on potential solutions they believed would create better outcomes. For example, Ms. DeSalvo urged greater implementation and enforcement of CMS's Emergency Preparedness Plan, as well as utilizing technology. Ms. Hyer encouraged nursing home administrators to do real emergency drills and make sure emergency plans are tested. Mr. Timmons labeled emergency preparedness a civil rights issue and called for the establishment of a National Center for Excellence in inclusive Disability and Aging Emergency Management. Finally, Mr. Delaney called for fully funding the national weather service and FEMA.
The Center for Medicare Advocacy submitted a statement for the record. We showed that, for more than 25 years, federal regulations have required nursing facilities to prepare for disasters and emergencies, including “extreme weather,” and that new regulations published in the Fall 2016 added more detailed requirements. A critical problem, however, is that the federal survey process rarely looks at facilities’ programs for disaster preparedness. Even when deficiencies are cited, they are not classified as serious enough to lead to the imposition of sanctions. The full statement, which includes the federal rules in at Attachment, is available at https://www.medicareadvocacy.org/disaster-preparedness-and-response-the-special-needs-of-older-americans.
For more information on the hearing, please see https://www.aging.senate.gov/hearings/disaster-preparedness-and-response-the-special-needs-of-older-americans.