Emergency Preparedness Moving Forward, LeadingAge Tells Aging Committee

Legislation | October 10, 2017 | by Barbara Gay

LeadingAge's statement for the record of the Senate Aging Committee's hearing on Disaster Preparedness and Response: The Special Needs of Older Americans pointed out the impending rule that will require all nursing homes to have disaster preparedness plans in place. We also urged the committee to consider the needs of senior housing residents and other older adults living independently in the community.

In the wake of nursing home resident deaths following Hurricane Irma, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing September 20, 2017 on Disaster Preparedness and Response: The Special Needs of Older Americans

In his opening statement, the committee's Ranking Member, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), pointed to the loss of life that occurred at a Florida nursing home that went without electrical power for several days following the storm. He also mentioned the Houston-area assisted living residents who were photographed sitting in waist-deep water due to the flooding that followed Hurricane Harvey.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), a member of the Aging Committee, has introduced S. 1834, the Protecting Seniors During Disasters Act with bipartisan support. The legislation calls for the appointment of a National Advisory Committee on Seniors and Disasters, made up of officials from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and other federal agencies, to evaluate the medical and public health needs of seniors in emergency situations and consult with state authorities on preparedness and response.

In our statement for the hearing record, LeadingAge commended the sponsors of this legislation, but urged them to include representatives of the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs in the advisory committee. We pointed out how vulnerable senior housing residents are to homelessness and interruption in the supply of necessities like food, water and electrical power in the aftermath of storms and other natural or man-made disasters. 

We also discussed the impending Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rule, due to go into effect on November 15, that will require virtually all health care providers to have emergency preparedness plans in place. These plans will address many of the goals envisioned in the Nelso legislation, since they must take into account all foreseeable hazards, take into account the special needs of the population the health care provider serves, include loacal agencies responsible for emergency response and be fully tested, with all staff trained to carry out the plan.