Emergency response isn’t reserved for senior living operators in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states during hurricane season. Tornadoes, wildfires, floods, deep freezes, power outages, burst pipes, electrical fires and even pandemics, unfortunately, are among the contingencies that also must be considered by operators everywhere. The reality is that emergencies and disruption are always lurking, yet many senior housing providers still are not fully prepared when disaster strikes.

Responding in times of disaster is a daunting task for anyone, but especially for senior living communities, their residents and staff members. It’s one thing to plan and prepare, but experience tells us that these situations have an extra layer of complexity due to the nature of senior living communities and their residents.

Will evacuation be necessary? Where will residents be relocated? How will they be transported? Who will manage moving their personal property? Those are the questions that keep senior living operators up at night.

Most communities are connected to the local municipal emergency services plan for their geographic area. And this is an important first step to ensuring that a community maximizes its emergency response in coordination with its community partners.

What’s often overlooked, however, is close alignment with a proven internal logistics partner. Because it’s impossible to know the full ramifications of a potential disaster before it occurs, the value of having this capability in place before crisis strikes is critical. Senior living operators should ensure that their logistics partners are experienced in emergency response, especially as it relates to serving the unique needs of senior residents.   

Senior living operators also should expect their logistics partners not only to be central to their emergency response plans, but also centrally involved in training staff in advance of any urgent situation. According to Garth Platt, regional director of sales at Elmcroft Senior Living, “training and access are key.”

Platt has partnered with Moves for Seniors to conduct monthly training for his associates. Not only do the training sessions help associates deliver the full value of logistics services to residents and their families; they also serve as a valuable touch point to ensure team members know exactly how to engage the logistics partner quickly and efficiently in times of crisis.      

EF-3 tornado during COVID-19

This high level of engagement and access proved valuable for Platt when a tornado struck Chattanooga, TN, in April 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. When two senior living communities in Chattanooga sustained significant damage from the tornado, Platt joined with other operators in the area to help. Although the tornado occurred in the middle of the night, Platt and his team immediately went to work, transferring residents at 2 a.m. from the affected senior living communities.

To coordinate necessary logistics related to moving the residents’ belongings, Platt connected with his emergency contacts at Moves for Seniors to tap into their network of providers in the Chattanooga area. In addition to managing through physical tornado destruction, strict COVID-19 procedures and insurance requirements also had to be considered.

Moves for Seniors provided access to appropriate personal protective equipment and collaborated with the damaged property to pick up all resident belongings for transport within the limitations put in place by the insurance provider. Ultimately, Platt’s team and Moves for Seniors transitioned the belongings of 21 residents in response to the EF-3 tornado.

Hurricane Florence, North Carolina

When Hurricane Florence was headed toward North Carolina in September 2018, a senior living community needed to evacuate 140 residents from a coastal property to some of its other locations in the Charlotte area. The senior living operator connected with Moves for Seniors to coordinate a three-hour turnaround to pick up and set up 120 cots at one location and 20 cots at another location to accommodate the displaced residents.  

In the several days after the hurricane made landfall, the Wilmington, NC, area was almost unreachable from outside the flood zone. As a result, a senior living community in the area contacted Moves for Seniors to help in the process of moving two stranded residents to a safe location. In this case, access to an established network of highly vetted local providers allowed Moves for Seniors to identify one that could access the area and transport all needed belongings for the older adults.

As Hurricane Florence took a southwest turn toward coastal Georgia, another senior living community took proactive measures to protect its residents from potential impact. In this scenario, the community engaged Moves for Seniors to pick up cots and bedding from one community located in Columbia, SC, and transport and set them up at another location near Macon, GA, in anticipation of a potential evacuation.

Preparation brings peace of mind

In times of crisis, senior living operators should have their plans and logistics partners in place to rise to the challenge of effective emergency response for residents and employees. When crises such as these strike, the senior living operators who managed through them say it is imperative for their logistics partner to be accessible 24/7 with a highly vetted network of in-market service providers who are experienced working with senior living communities. Having a single logistics partner at the corporate level that can help all communities nationally is even better — this way all communities have a single point of contact with consistent policies.

Turnaround times are always important, but they are critical in times of disaster when variables are changing minute by minute. Having a robust and thought-out emergency response plan with a strategic logistics partner that can be activated at a moment’s notice is a strong tool to help deliver peace of mind for residents and their families.          

Moves for Seniors recommends the following steps for all its strategic partners:

  • Define key players to deal with emergency situations on both sides (community and logistics provider); include key contact information.
  • Have a quarterly (or ideally, monthly) emergency response planning / review call to update on processes and best practices.
  • Use sample situations to map out communication flows and key process steps.
  • After any emergency situation, hold a debrief session to assess response and areas for potential improvement.

Bob Burg is executive vice president of Moves for Seniors. He has been a C-level leader throughout the healthcare industry, with significant expertise in developing new business paradigms, relationships and partnerships with senior housing, health systems, health plans, large physician groups, pharma and pharmacy chains, as well as experience in building startups and growth companies. His expertise is in the areas of finance, business development, healthcare information technology and operations.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living marketplace column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.