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Stringer: Make Emergency Preparedness a Top Priority Before It's Too Late

by Maibe Gonzalez-Fuentes

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer today released a study that finds the State Department of Health (DOH) is failing to adequately prepare nursing homes for evacuation in the case of a major emergency. As a result, thousands of New York City's elderly and disabled residents are at risk.

At a press conference in front of Cabrini Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, Borough President Stringer, senior citizens and advocates called on DOH, the agency charged with regulating nursing homes, to reform their emergency preparedness procedures.

"New Yorkers know what it's like when disaster strikes," Borough President Stringer said. "After the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks, it is unacceptable for New York not to have viable emergency and evacuation plans for our most vulnerable residents. The State must immediately provide the oversight and support necessary for nursing homes so that they may draft and implement plans that will best respond to the emergency needs of their residents."

Nearly half of the 100,000 New York State residents in nursing homes reside in New York City. Stringer's study reviewed the evacuation plans of 40 nursing homes located within the five boroughs and interviewed administrative staff about how well they thought they were prepared for an emergency and how much support they received during the development of their plans.

Among the study's most significant findings:

  • DOH does not check the quality of nursing home evacuation plans. DOH merely checks to see if nursing homes have answered a set of questions, not whether these questions were answered adequately or if the answers raise any potential questions about the sufficiency of a plan.
  • The New York State Department of Health accepts nursing home plans that are incomplete; moreover, the agency sets no standard as to how evacuation plans should be structured. Of the 40 plans the Manhattan Borough President's Office reviewed, the shortest emergency plan was two pages; the longest was over 200 pages. Plans vary widely and there is no standard or model that DOH provides to nursing homes to ensure a proper plan is designed.
  • DOH's guidelines are inadequate. Important elements are missing from DOH's set of criteria, including what to do in the event that transportation routes are blocked and how to deal with fatalities.
  • Evacuation plans are not uniformly accessible to the families of nursing home residents or to the residents themselves.
  • Transportation vendors have contracts with multiple nursing homes, making a regional evacuation of nursing home residents impossible. While there are tens of thousands of residents in nursing homes across the City, there are a limited number of ambulances and ambulettes -which can carry no more than a few people at once. Furthermore, these transportation companies have numerous contracts with nursing homes across the region, making it impossible for them to honor every contract.
  • No executive decision-maker exists in the event of an emergency and it is not clear who had the ultimate authority in deciding whether nursing home residents should evacuate or stay in place.

    Stringer's analysis offers the following recommendations:

  • The New York State Department of Health must expand the set of guidelines given and undertake a thorough assessment of evacuation plans at least every six months.
  • Nursing Home administrators must make their evacuation plans more accessible to their residents and to the family members of their residents.
  • DOH should convene a working group to study alternative strategies for a regional evacuation.

    Maibe Gonzalez-Fuentes is MBP Scott Stringer's Press Secretary

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