Emergency Preparedness Checklist with pencil. Close-up.
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Enhancing relationships with senior living providers is one of four recommendations proposed by a federal committee advising the US Department of Health and Human Services on disaster preparedness and older adults.

The National Advisory Committee on Seniors and Disasters released its first set of recommendations ahead of a public meeting on them scheduled for Thursday.

The new NACSD report focuses on building disaster resilience among older adults through an evaluation of the preparedness, response and recovery needs of older adults living in assisted living and memory care communities as well as in skilled nursing facilities and independently in the greater community. The recommendations focus on improving community readiness, infrastructure and behavioral health in assisted living and other settings and cover communication, community partner training, centers of excellence for older adults, and the expansion of the long-term care ombudsman program.

The need to protect the health of a growing population of older adults during disasters grew following adverse physical and mental health outcomes experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the committee.

Effective communication ‘vital’

Among the communication recommendations are to enhance relationships with independent living, assisted living and memory care communities as well as other aging-related organizations; update national emergency management websites; identify disasters and public health risk communication best practices and messaging for reaching older adults; and develop guidance for state and local governments. 

“Effective communication to the public, including those with access and functional needs, and among preparedness and response organizations, is vital to ensuring that information and opportunities reach older adults and their caregivers before, during and after an emergency,” the report reads.

Partner expansion supported

The committee said it supports sustainable funding for programs addressing training for traditional and other partners, including safety services and volunteer organizations, as well as advocacy groups, businesses and other community groups that contribute to disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

Recommendations include increasing the access that long-term care providers have to community-based preparedness information, and disaster training and exercise lists. HHS also should provide guidance in creating a Presidential Disaster rEadiness Program that includes older adults, the committee said, adding that such a program would improve outcomes for disaster capacity and capabilities.

Collaborative models of care called for

The committee additionally recommends that HHS establish Disaster Care Centers of Excellence for Older Adults as a model for regional collaboration, virtual support and specialized guidance. With funding and guidance from HHS, the centers would support national, regional and local entities with real-time guidance. The DCoEOA would take proactive steps to assess gaps, mitigate risks and build capacity to provide disaster care for older adults.

The committee recommends that, under the centers, HHS develop technical guidance to promote disaster readiness for older adults, families and caregivers, and offer disaster leadership training for the direct care workforce. The recommendations also include standardized curricula for disaster responders and health professionals, with a specific focus on the needs of older adults across all settings, inducing trauma-informed care approaches and disaster behavioral health training.

The committee also recommends redefining the long-term care ombudsman office to include resident and system advocacy related to disaster preparedness, response and recovery — including dedicated funding for permanent positions to support those functions.

During the pandemic, the committee said, ombudsmen in some states encountered barriers in accessing long-term care communities, which reduced their effectiveness as advocates for older adults.