Get ready for the stormy future

Are nursing homes ready for hurricanes?

Alex Eben Meyer

Alex Eben Meyer

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The wind howled. Water overtopped windowsills. Beds floated on rising waters. By the time Hurricane Katrina had passed through the Louisiana flatlands of St. Bernard Parish, 35 residents of St. Rita’s Nursing Home had drowned. The owners were indicted for negligent homicide.

A new study led by Natalia Festa, a clinical fellow at the School of Medicine, has the potential to prevent tragedies like this one. With four colleagues from Yale, Festa evaluated the emergency preparedness of nursing homes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. They found a surprising lack of readiness among most facilities, suggesting that the active spread of best practices could help nursing homes in a changing climate in which hurricanes will be more common.

The researchers gathered a sample of almost 6,000 certified nursing homes along the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. They matched each facility’s location with information from the National Hurricane Center to assess the risk of flooding from a hurricane (at least two feet of inundation). They found that approximately ten percent of them were at risk.

They also found that nearly one-third of the nursing homes in their sample had critical deficiencies in emergency preparedness, based on audits conducted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Interestingly, these deficiencies were not spread evenly: at-risk facilities along the mid-Atlantic coast were more likely to be unprepared, while the converse was true in states along the western Gulf Coast—a pattern, the researchers hypothesize, that results from the Gulf’s prior experience with hurricane response and regulatory reform following Hurricane Katrina.

“Understanding which practices differ and how effective practices might be adopted within other regulatory regions should offer interesting insights,” Festa says. 

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