Hurricane nursing home deaths cause a bipartisan gut-check in Congress

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Senators in the nation’s capitol held a hearing Wednesday to evaluate the disaster preparedness and response for older Americans following natural disasters.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma caused devastation along the gulf coast of Texas and the Florida peninsula, resulting in record flooding, fuel shortages, power outages and residential communities completely submerged in water. Authorities during both storms asked those living in the path of impact from the storms to evacuate.

But for many older and disabled residents of these areas, evacuations can be difficult logistically, mentally and physically. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities often face the difficult decision of when — if at all — to evacuate, and how to move less ambulatory patients or those suffering from dementia.

In Houston, a picture showing as many as 25 nursing home residents sitting waist-deep in rising water waiting to be rescued went viral.

In Beaumont, Texas, an anchor at FOX 4, Jasmine Styles, helped a reluctant elderly resident make the difficult decision to evacuate her home live on air. Port Arthur resident Dorothy Henley had called the station explaining she didn’t want to leave her home despite the rising floodwaters.

“But those belongings can be replaced. Miss Dorothy, we can’t replace you. So, I want you to get out of that house, because now is better than if you’ve got a foot of water raging into your house, because then you’re going to be in more of a panic,” the anchor pleaded with Henley. Styles asking Henley to “keep dialing 911 no matter what happens.”

Just a few short weeks later, a nursing home in Hollywood Florida, lost power after Hurricane Irma. Eight residents diedfrom heat exposure. More than 100 residents were evacuated from the home. Florida Governor Rick Scott said he had received many calls from nursing homes and assisted living facilities having problems with generators.

“We’re doing everything we can to help them get either generators, fuel, power back on. It’s one of the things we’re doing aggressively,” Scott said.

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