In the wake of multiple deaths of frail older people after Hurricane Irma, AARP Florida called Wednesday for a thorough review of state and local emergency management procedures, state law and state funding for frail older Floridians, those living with disabilities and family caregivers.
“Every major hurricane teaches us lessons,” said Jeff Johnson, AARP’s Florida state director. “After Hurricane Andrew, Florida responded with stronger building codes. Hurricane Irma also will teach us tragic lessons. Some lessons have already begun to come to our attention while others will take longer to surface.”
“AARP is deeply moved and concerned by the deaths of at least eight older Floridians in a nursing home in Hollywood where backup electrical power systems failed to protect frail residents from heat exhaustion after Hurricane Irma,” Johnson said. “Florida has systems in place to prevent this type of tragedy. Those systems did not protect those residents. We need not only to have adequate plans in place, but we also need to implement those plans seamlessly.”
State and county officials routinely contact Florida nursing-home, assisted living facility and elder care facilities in “call-downs” before, during and after major storms, and state officials host regular conference calls before and after storms.
But news reports have surfaced of other nursing homes and assisted living facilities that were without adequate backup power in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
“AARP Florida strongly supports a review of policies and laws now in place to see if there is a way to improve the safety of our most vulnerable loved ones and neighbors,” Johnson said. “We hope the Florida Legislature takes the voices of family members and older Floridians into account when and if it launches such a review.”
Florida also has a state-run system for providing shelters for frail older people, those living with disabilities and those who are seriously ill. This special-needs shelter system provided shelter and basic care for large numbers of people while the storm lasted. At one point, the state issued an emergency call for up to 1,000 nurses urgently needed at state special needs shelters. Appropriately staffing these shelters well in advance of a storm also is something worth reviewing, Johnson said.