Every time you turn on the TV, it seems there is another natural disaster in the United States. From hurricanes to wildfires, senior living communities are at risk.

As the CDC notes, “older adults may have impaired mobility, diminished sensory awareness, multiple chronic health conditions, and social and economic limitations.” These issues can lead to difficulties when we need to keep residents safe in emergency situations.

It is our duty to care for our most valuable resource. As an industry, we are making great strides in preparing for and responding to emergency situations.

Long-term care providers and suppliers affected by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ new emergency preparedness rule had to comply with and implement all regulations in 2017.The new rule was designed to establish a national standard for both natural and man-made disasters, focusing on the all-hazards approach that the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses. This approach allows each provider and supplier to better plan for disasters and coordinate with local and federal emergency management agencies.

The CMS rule ensures that everyone involved with emergency preparedness-planning is speaking the same language and moving in the same direction. CMS is not the only entity regulating and safeguarding our seniors, however. Several states have supplemented the CMS rule with their own regulations, which may be especially relevant for assisted living communities not affected by the national rule.

In many ways, state standards are driving innovation in the industry and continuing to raise the bar for excellence in emergency preparedness, allowing senior living communities to:

  • Safeguard residents,
  • Maintain business continuity and
  • Protect facilities.

In Florida, a deadly hurricane season in 2017 led to new standards requiring assisted living communities and nursing homes to have generators capable of running air conditioning for four days. More than nine months after the legislation was enacted, 97% of skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities are in compliance with the law, having either installed permanent generators or been granted extensions, according to news reports.

Now all eyes are on California.

California Assembly Bill No. 3098 was signed into law in September. It places several requirements on senior living communities in the state, but one item has received a significant amount of attention, partially because it requires a capital expenditure. Communities are required to have an evacuation chair at each stairwell by July 1.

Evacuation chairs (visit this page for an example) are the newest resource for protecting senior living residents. During an emergency, state and federal emergency management agencies have plans to assist in the event of a disaster. The reality is their assistance is not guaranteed. In 2018, wildfires in California moved so quickly that many communities were forced to complete evacuations with no outside support.

Evacuation chairs use friction tracks and braking systems to ensure all residents, regardless of their physical capabilities, can quickly evacuate. As senior living communities in California look to reach compliance ahead of the July 1 deadline, the rest of the industry is watching and learning.

Emergency preparedness is constantly changing. As a country, we continue to redefine excellence by finding new ways to safeguard our aging population.

Florida and California are setting the pace for the rest of the country to follow, reminding us that current best practices, procedures and technologies are just starting points. It is up to each of us to challenge the standards of emergency preparedness to ensure that our communities are safe and healthy places for our most valuable commodity, our seniors.