Nursing home deaths a grim reminder of how we treat the elderly

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma impacted millions of people across the U.S., but one of the groups that was most severely affected is the elderly, particularly those in nursing homes. While nursing home neglect is all too common in our country, the egregious incidents caused by the hurricanes' power outages and flooding remind us that the elderly need our support and protection.

The flooding in Texas from Hurricane Harvey caused some entire nursing home populations to require rescue by boat. Because nursing home residents are overwhelmingly vulnerable to physical and mental injuries, this type of rescue is especially dangerous for them.

In Florida, Hurricane Irma caused millions of people and facilities to lose power for days. Nine people died as a result of the power outage in nursing homes when the heat rose and there was no air conditioning available.

What can be done to prevent this type of incident?

Elder care advocates say that nursing home facilities need to be a priority in emergency situations such as these. Additionally, enforcing current building codes regarding generators may prevent deadly power outages in hurricanes and other storms.

Changes in state and federal laws, however, may be necessary to provide substantial protection for nursing home residents from preventable injury and death in emergency situations. Fortunately, Florida governor Rick Scott recently announced emergency rules mandating that all nursing homes and assisted living homes purchase sufficient supplies, including generators, to last for a minimum of four days following power outages.

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