More than three-quarters of at-risk nursing homes report they are inadequately prepared for major emergencies, according to new findings from a federal watchdog.
The Health and Human Services Department Office of Inspector General surveyed 168 nursing homes last year to determine areas of concern regarding their readiness to respond to public health emergencies and natural disasters. Seventy-seven percent of the facilities told the OIG they face at least one “major” or “moderate” challenge that jeopardizes their ability to care for residents during crises. Staffing stood out as the most commonly cited problem.
“The findings in this report align with prior OIG work and highlight the vulnerabilities in nursing homes’ preparedness efforts,” the report concludes. "We found that the challenges related to ensuring appropriate staffing during emergencies and transporting residents during evacuations ranked as the most problematic issues for nursing homes."
Natural disasters and infectious disease outbreaks frequently prove problematic for nursing homes, their employees and their residents.
For example, the OIG report cites the havoc Hurricane Ida wreaked in Louisiana two years ago, when residents from seven nursing homes were evacuated to a temporary shelter with unreliable power and poor sanitary conditions. Seven residents died. And since the COVID-19 pandemic commenced, 1.7 million nursing home residents have contracted the virus and 168,000 have died, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data as of Aug. 20.
The inspector general targeted its survey to nursing homes located in geographic areas that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has designated as at "very high" or "relatively high risk" of natural disasters.The inspector general asked nursing homes to asses preparedness based on 49 specific activities in seven categories and reported the percentage identifying them as "major" or "moderate" challenges.