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October 29
Safer, Smarter Solutions for Older Americans

Improving Sheltering Options for the Elderly and Patient Tracking in Nursing Homes

Author: Natalie N Grant, MPH , Health & Social Services Recovery Support Function Field Coordinator ,Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, many responders, planners and individuals wondered how we could best take care of vulnerable populations, like the elderly, as part of our efforts to keep everybody safe and healthy. ASPR is working with its partners on two critical initiatives that could help keep elderly people safe and provide peace of mind for their loved ones following a disaster. We are improving sheltering options for elderly individuals and patient tracking for people in nursing homes.

Hurricane Sandy struck one of the fastest growing elderly populations in the world: the people of Nassau County. As part of the response, elderly people evacuated to general population shelters in the local community college. The elderly have special challenges in a disaster – like mobility issues, dependence on portable ventilators or respirators, or vision and hearing problems – and a general population shelter may not be the best place to accommodate these needs.

That’s why we are working with Nassau County, FEMA and the US Army Corps of Engineers to find better ways to support elderly populations following a disaster. We are looking at new and innovative ways to use the existing infrastructure to better meet the needs of older adults in the wake of disasters.

We are also working with our partners to make sure that we have excellent tracking systems for elderly patients in nursing homes and long-term care facilities – not just those in hospitals. When Hurricane Sandy struck, HHS had a patient tracking system for patients evacuated from hospitals as part of the overall federal response. However, the city and state did not have a system for tracking other evacuated populations, such as the residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities. Although the state had identified the need to track these patients, it didn’t have the funds that to put a system in place.

Now, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are working with the New York Department of Health and the New York State Office of Child and Family Services to improve client tracking in evacuations. ASPR’s Regional Emergency Coordinators have worked with their state-level partners to develop a system known as E-FINDS (Evacuation of Facilities in Disasters System). We are supporting the roll-out of the system to the provider network so that they can access the barcode scanner system and better track vulnerable populations in nursing homes and long-term healthcare facilities.

Every year brings new challenges and new disasters. But with improved sheltering techniques and patient tracking, we are better able to keep the some of the community’s most vulnerable, including the elderly, safe when disaster strikes.

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