Since the tragedy in South Florida that resulted in emergency generator regulations for nursing centers and assisted living facilities, there has been a great deal of discussion about how to prevent a similar situation in the future. Thinking outside the box will be particularly important during the interim period when permanent generators are being installed. Hopefully, we won’t have a need for emergency power during that time or, if we do, everyone’s temporary source of power will run without a hitch. But if it doesn’t and just for an added level of security, let’s share some ideas as to how to keep the residents safe.
Someone in charge
At all times, it is imperative to have someone on the premises and in charge who knows how to monitor the residents and can call for assistance if necessary. That person should either have the clinical knowledge or always have someone with him/her who does and have full authority to call 911 if necessary.
Train staff on use of the emergency equipment
There should be staff and a supervisor in the building at all times who are very familiar with the emergency equipment your center using and know how to use it safely. For example, many portable air conditioners need to be vented to the outside or hot air will merely circulate back into the building. How to ventilate them, and when, should be communicated to several staff members. In all likelihood, you will already have those coolers set up and properly ventilated before the storm strikes, but staff should know the importance of proper ventilation so they don’t modify something you have done.
Someone should always be there who can decide if equipment is running properly and safely. Portable generators may give off fumes that can be toxic if pulled back into the facility. Of course, your plant operations people know that, but other staff should as well. This would allow the clinical staff to recognize problems residents may be having that are associated with fumes immediately so plant operations can rectify the situation. Written protocols are very important.
In most cases during the interim period, you are likely to have a smaller area of refuge than you will have when the project is completed. Accommodating staff without compromising the safety and comfort of residents is important. Plan in advance as to where staff will sleep and how many will be with residents at any given time. Communicate your requirements and expectations with your staff in advance and enforce it to protect staff and residents.
While certain legal requirements are relaxed in an emergency situation, people who are being cared for need privacy and dignity. Plan in advance how this is going to be achieved and communicate it with your staff. The importance of protecting residents’ rights, as best you can, should be a paramount goal.
Ice and water
Dehydration must be avoided as it can lead to serious, irreversible harm to elderly residents. Someone needs to be responsible to ensure that when an event is approaching that could lead to a power failure, plenty of ice is available. Water usually isn’t an issue because you are required to have a certain amount in your emergency storage. Someone should also be responsible to ensure ice and water are passed very often. The water pass gives staff an opportunity to observe residents for any signs of issues arising from the emergency. Staff should be reminded regularly of this obligation.
Resident health issues
Staff need to know the residents for whom they are providing care. Subtle signs of issues related to the loss of power can occur, and if the staff member caring for that resident does not know her health status, those issues might be missed.
Seeking health timely
“Timely” during a normal day is likely quite different from “timely” during an emergency event. Assuming emergency and fire department personnel can get to you, it may take longer than normal. Ask for the help early so it comes before a relatively minor issue becomes a disaster. Your staff will be monitoring residents’ vital signs and other potential signs of problems often enough that they can recognize an issue at its onset and seek help as necessary.
These are some of the concerns shared with us by our clients. You have likely thought of these and more, but it never hurts to remind ourselves.