Many coastal nursing homes are not prepared for hurricanes

Many coastal nursing homes are not prepared for hurricanes

A significant number of nursing homes at risk of hurricane-related flooding may not be adequately prepared, a new study finds.

One in 10 nursing homes in the US coastal regions is at risk of exposure to severe hurricane-related flooding. Nursing home residents are disproportionately more susceptible than the general population to injuries and deaths due to environmental disasters.

The researchers used publicly available data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to study the relationship between the risk of local hurricane exposure and emergency preparedness in nursing homes in several coastal regions.

They found that preparedness differed considerably, highlighting the need for standardized emergency measures that protect all vulnerable and at-risk residents.

“This project sits at the intersection of medicine and climate,” says Kaitlin Throgmorton, health sciences data librarian at Yale University Cushing/Whitney Medical Library and a collaborator on the study, published in JAMA Open Network. “We are trying to understand how nursing homes are responding to various climate threats by using fully open data.”

Smaller scale studies have suggested a lack of emergency preparedness. The team hoped to better understand the correlation between potential hurricane flooding and preparedness on a large geographic scale using a sample of nearly 6,000 nursing homes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

They geocoded homes and assessed facility characteristics as well as risk of exposure to potential hurricane-related flooding using map data from the National Hurricane Center. They then used the data to see if exposed nursing homes were more likely to have stronger preparation.

The study found that about 10% of those sampled were at risk of hurricane-related flooding, and about 30% also had a critical deficiency in emergency preparedness.

While at-risk facilities on the western Gulf Coast were more likely to have better preparedness, to the team’s surprise, this correlation did not exist in other regions. In the Mid-Atlantic region, they observed a higher prevalence of deficiencies in emergency preparedness among facilities at risk.

“In our analysis, we found that nursing homes on the western Gulf coast appear to be responsive to local environmental risks,” says Natalia Festa, a researcher with the National Clinical Fellows Program and the Yale Program on Aging. “But in other regions, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

The team believes that the western Gulf Coast may be better prepared due to post-Hurricane Katrina regulatory reforms, and that these facilities could potentially serve as an example of emergency preparedness for at-risk nursing homes in other parts of the country.

“But additional research is needed to understand the mechanisms underlying the patterns we observed,” Festa adds.

Additionally, the study shows how fully open data can be used to learn more about preparing healthcare facilities for environmental hazards.

“We’ve been able to promote open data work and also show the impact of what we can learn and advise on from a policy perspective,” says Throgmorton.

The team plans to expand its work by evaluating nursing home emergency preparedness for other regionally concentrated environmental hazards throughout the United States.

Source: Isabella Backman for Yale University

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