Across Florida, many skilled nursing centers are counting their blessings that they and their residents made it through Hurricane Irma relatively unscathed. But good fortune was not the only contributing factor, as Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) and its member centers worked diligently before, during, and after the storm to ensure that their residents would be safe no matter what got thrown their way. It is terribly unfortunate that one non-member nursing center was not as prepared and suffered tragic outcomes.
A prime example of a well-prepared FHCA center was Gainesville Health Care Center, where the team spent two days securing the building and boarding up windows with metal shutters. Spirits were high throughout the center, as residents enjoyed their normal three meals a day and the activities coordinator kept them entertained during the storm. Though there were power outages in the area, the center remained up and running thanks to a backup generator that provided air conditioning, lights, phones, and computer service. Fortunately, several days of advance warning allowed the residents, staff, and residents families to get ready for a period of time when they would have no power, no infrastructure, and no ability to get pharmaceutical refills. A seven to 10-day supply of residents’ medications was secured and was more than sufficient in the wake of the storm.
Though modern-day conveniences like telephones and computer service are certainly helpful in times of crisis, FHCA and its member centers were prepared for any outcome.
FHCA began monitoring the path of Hurricane Irma as it made its way to Florida, and we were all thankful for the ample time to get everything in order. In addition, we were all tremendously grateful for the decisive, consistent leadership Gov. Rick Scott demonstrated throughout Irma’s path of destruction in our state. FHCA leadership was able to speak with the governor every day Irma threatened our residents, and his sense of urgency as the state prepared was matched by his continual presence and guidance during and after the storm.
The kind of preparation and response seen at long term care centers throughout Florida doesn’t happen by accident. Emergency preparedness isn’t an afterthought for skilled nursing centers. For example, even though we had no way of knowing that a monster storm like Irma was in our future, over the past year nearly 1,500 long-term care professionals took part in emergency preparedness trainings, disaster drills, and educational seminars.
As a result, we were ready. When state and local officials took steps to protect the public, our care centers successfully completed at least 70 large-scale evacuations to ensure their residents’ safety and well-being. And when Irma threw millions into darkness, our nursing centers weren’t immune – more than 400 of them lost power – yet they managed to continue providing for the needs of approximately 68,000 residents.
Now, Florida’s leaders have begun a careful assessment of what went right and what went wrong as Hurricane Irma imposed its might on our state. At Gainesville Health Care, we look forward to working with them to develop effective, workable solutions to make sure everything possible is being done to protect those who are entrusted to our care.
It is a mission we believe in, a calling we are drawn to. And it is something we will never stop working to improve.