What SNFs Can Learn About Disaster Preparation from Hurricane Harvey

As local rescue efforts continue in southeast Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, senior housing providers in the Gulf Coast may need to take a closer look at their emergency preparedness plans to ensure that they are ready to handle such crises in the best interest of residents and staff alike.

The issue is particularly important for skilled nursing providers, which must abide by a new set of emergency preparedness rules from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) starting November 15. Here are some lessons that operators can learn from the devastation in Houston.

La Vita Bella rescue


One Dickinson, Texas-based assisted living community’s emergency preparedness was certainly put to the test, as residents of La Vita Bella were left stranded during the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

A photo of La Vita Bella residents sitting waist-deep in flood water, in what appears to be a common living space in the community, made the rounds on social media Sunday, which was first posted by Tampa, Fla. native Timothy McIntosh on Twitter.

Though McIntosh was miles away from the destruction, his mother-in-law, Trudy Lampson, owner of La Vita Bella, sought his help in circulating the photo online, according to local media. It was since been re-Tweeted more than 4,000 times.


The attention the photo received hours after it was posted, coupled with Lampson’s own efforts in seeking help, led Dickinson Police Department and the Texas National Guard in executing a rescue operation, successfully extracting the 15 seniors, as well as staff, from the heavily flooded community, according to the Galveston County Daily News.

Much care was taken by the Dickinson Police Department and the Texas National Guard, particularly as the seniors being rescued required special medical attention, according to Sgt. Tim Cromie, public information officer with the Dickinson Police Department.

All seniors rescued have been transported to Mainland Center Hospital in Texas City and placed under observation, Cromie told Skilled Nursing News.

“We’re extremely grateful that all the residents were safely evacuated in the best timely manner that it could be,” said Cromie.

Plan ahead

As more and more senior housing providers flock to the Houston area to establish a market presence, preparing a vigorous and thorough emergency plan should be a part of the process, given the hazardous weather conditions that the area frequently faces.

This was certainly a part of the plan for Methodist Retirement Communities, as it established its community, The Crossings, in League City, Texas, according to President and CEO Ron Jeannette.

To avoid situations like the one faced in Dickinson, Jeannette urges providers to not only have an emergency plan in place, but a backup plan, as well. In anticipation of Hurricane Harvey, Jeannette and his team analyzed the logistics of their community in League City.

“We pulled out our building plans, [and looked] at where are our high spots, where are our low spots and how much storm surge our engineers predicted we can withstand,” Jeannette told Skilled Nursing News. “We had those types of information available for us and that’s what we looked at to assess and decide that we think we can stay in place.”

Apart from this, the community also relied on extra meals from food suppliers for both residents and staff.

“We had our staff, in advance, plan to spend the night, and they’ve actually spent several nights now at our community,” said Jeannette.

They also had a backup plan in place. Jeannette explained that the community had a partnership with Christ United Methodist Church in College Station to migrate residents and staff in case weather conditions got worse.

For Jeannette, having a plan for evacuation is crucial, particularly for communities that provide skilled nursing to residents.

“All of us are always worried about evacuating because there is such high risk with people who are sick,” he said.

Constant contact

Vitality Senior Living in Victoria, Texas took this approach, migrating its memory care residents to a Silverado Senior Living community in Austin, and its assisted living residents to a hotel in San Antonio, according to Debbie Howard, vice president of sales and marketing at Vitality Senior Living.

For Howard, establishing strong communication channels between staff, residents, and family members was key to ensuring the safety of community members. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the company set up phone lines that were staffed and monitored by team members to answer calls from family members.

Also, not only did the community set up a special pop-up box alerting visitors of their disaster plan, employees also took to social media site Facebook to keep community members in constant contact.

“They weren’t just getting accounts of everyone’s [safety] but they were able to see photos,” Howard told Skilled Nursing News. “We felt like that was the most personal way to express how the residents are doing and what the plans were.”

Methodist Retirement Communities also took to social media to keep team members, residents and family alert.

“That was a good way for us to instantly communicate with staff that weren’t immediately in the eye of the storm; they want to know what their sister communities were up to and if they needed anything so that was our way of keeping them in the loop,” said Alyssa Adam, vice president of marketing at Methodist Retirement Communities.

For Jeannette, having an emergency plan in place is just the first step to disaster preparedness. It takes proactive advanced planning and constant review of such plans to ensure safety for all, he explained.

“Be sure that [your emergency disaster plan] is still operational in the way that best serves you today,” he said.

Written by Carlo Calma

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