Irma, Harvey show how senior living exemplifies 'family'

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

As National Assisted Living Week kicked off Sunday, communities in Florida were experiencing winds and rain associated with Hurricane Irma or were preparing for her potential effects.

The 2017 theme of the annual observance, which was created by the National Center for Assisted Living in 1995, is “Family is Forever.” NCAL said the theme was inspired by a quote from poet Maya Angelou: “Family isn't always blood, it's the people in your life who want you in theirs: the ones who accept you for who you are, the ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.”

Those sentiments certainly capture the spirit of those working in the senior living communities we've been reading about in news stories related to Irma and the preceding Hurricane Harvey — and of course that spirit is not limited to community members of NCAL state affiliates, nor is it limited to assisted living.

Several operators and industry associations have set up relief funds for those affected by Harvey, and I'm sure such funds will be set up to help victims of Irma as necessary.

At the end of last week, operators elsewhere already were offering their communities to older adults who needed to evacuate Florida cities. Florida Argentum and the American Health Care Association and NCAL were among organizations posting lists of resources online, and LeadingAge Florida was posting updates to social media as it kept in daily contact with the Florida Health Care Association, Florida Argentum and the Florida Assisted Living Association through calls with state authorities.

“It helps us identify key unmet needs and helps us understand the state's priorities in terms of response, and it really has helped all of those organizations funnel requests for assistance and concern through the appropriate channels in a really organized way,” LeadingAge President and CEO Steve Bahmer told me Friday.

Also Friday, Holiday Retirement Senior Vice President of Operations Mark Price told me that his company was even better prepared after recently putting into action its protocols during Harvey. More than 4,500 residents at 78 Holiday communities were in the Irma's potential path, according to the company.

“While we continue to follow our established processes during planning for Hurricane Irma, we continually learn,” Price said. “In fact, our on-the-ground team in Texas was able to share learnings and best practices with our team in the Southeast. It only makes us better prepared.”

Those preparations included teams of chefs, maintenance workers, housekeepers and others that were planning to remain at the potentially affected communities day and night until the storm subsides. Holiday also had arranged for shelter for residents, employees, immediate family members and their pets should their homes suffer loss. All communities had a seven-day supply of food and water as well as emergency generators (some of which were put into use over the weekend), and the company was posting updates related to evacuations, power outages and other Irma news at least twice a day on its website.

Other communities were undertaking similar actions.

Almost 400 assisted living communities, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities, along with 30 hospitals, had announced evacuations as of Sunday evening, according to Florida's Emergency Operations Center.

So as assisted living communities across the country mark National Assisted Living Week with ice cream socials, open houses and other activities (to keep up, follow the hashtag #NALW on social media), we'll also be thinking about and celebrating the workers and companies operating in the southeastern part of the country, and how they exemplify “family” through their actions related to the weather.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.

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