The U.S. Senate’s finance committee released an investigative report in November on the effects poor emergency preparedness plans had for senior living residents during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma last summer. The report highlights how poor planning and response put thousands of senior living residents at risk, with 12 residents at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills dying during Hurricane Irma and many more suffering physically because they weren’t evacuated in a timely manner. With the unseasonable and extreme weather seen in recent years along the Eastern Seaboard, Wingate Residences at Norton has taken proactive measures to prevent tragedies and, more importantly, set the standard for emergency preparedness at senior living communities across the state of Massachusetts.
As a member of the Massachusetts Long Term Care Mutual Aid Plan, also known as MassMAP, Wingate Residences at Norton is armed with a preplanned strategy in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency. When a rare tornado touched down a mile from the assisted living community, Executive Director Tiffany Michalski said staff and residents were more than prepared to take appropriate action.
“We always have disaster plans in place, but you never know until it happens,” Michalski said. “MASS MAP has helped us fine tune the process, and everyone really stayed calm, which was wonderful.”
According to the Mutual Aid Plan website, “MassMAP establishes a course of action and an agreed commitment among participating nursing homes, assisted living residences and residential care facilities to assist each other as needed in the time of a disaster.” Participating senior living communities not only receive preplanned evacuation strategies and predesignated evacuation locations, they will also share equipment, staff, transportation and other resources when a disaster overwhelms or exceeds a single community’s capabilities.
Michalski said that MassMAP has allowed the state of Massachusetts to bring emergency preparedness at senior living communities to a new level. “It needs to be a statewide process,” she said. In the meantime, Wingate Healthcare has set emergency preparedness standards for all its communities.
As part of Wingate’s orientation process, each new hire is taught their specific community’s emergency plans and their role in the case of disaster. During the tornado warning, Norton’s wellness staff was charged with knocking on each resident’s door and moving residents to predetermined common areas. Norton’s wellness director, Karen Custodio, oversees the CNAs and wellness nurse who do so. She manages any medical needs that arise during emergencies as well.
Wingate communities also conduct regular drills to ensure emergency plans are effective and understood by everyone in the building. Wingate Residences at Norton took part in a statewide disaster drill in June. Michalski said doing so helped residents feel confident in where they should go during the tornado warning. “You can never have enough training and drills,” Custodio said. “Hands-on experience does not compare to the real thing, but it certainly helps us prepare.”
Emergency preparedness isn’t solely about proactive measures, though. After a disaster, Wingate staff come together to learn what can be done to streamline and improve processes. “Whenever we have an event, like the blizzard last year that knocked out power for three days, we have follow-up team meetings,” Michalski said “This allows us to implement new processes as needed and be as thorough as possible to ensure our residents’ and staff’s safety.” Custodio said, “The team reviews the incident and breaks it all down to see what we can improve on and if anything new needs to be implemented. I love the process.”
With the U.S. Senate urging the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to set tighter emergency preparedness regulations for participating providers, Wingate is leading the charge. In an area of the country that rarely sees tornados, Cape Cod and Providence saw three touch down in one day. Michalski is grateful they weren’t affected but said she is glad they were ready and had the chance to learn by doing.