Developing a Disaster Plan for Your Skilled Nursing Facility

MacKenzie Kimball, for HealthLeaders Media , September 10, 2009

Skilled nursing facilities (SNF) should always have a comprehensive and up-to-date disaster plan in place and, with hurricane season in full swing and winter just around the corner, now is a good time for facilities to revisit their plans and ensure staff members are prepared for all potential emergency situations.

The federal regulations for disaster planning in SNFs require facilities to "have detailed written plans and procedures to meet all potential emergencies and disasters," and "train employees in emergency procedures when they begin work in the facility, periodically review the procedures with current staff, and carry out unannounced staff drills using those procedures."

Although facilities must also meet state requirements and those related specifically to fire safety, known as the National Fire Protection Association's Life Safety Code ®, the federal regulations for disaster planning and training in SNFs are somewhat vague, leaving the details of what should be included in disaster plans up to individual facilities.

"Disaster plans are made up of many components and it is easy for a facility to forget something important, especially if they have never been through a disaster before," says Deborah Franklin, director of operations at Florida Living Options in Dover, FL, and president of the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA).

Some important components facilities should include in their disaster plans are as follows:

  • Evacuation provisions
  • Sheltering-in-place provisions
  • Special needs of residents
  • Staff training and adequate staffing

Although having a comprehensive disaster plan is essential to surviving emergency situations, facility staff members must be able to think on their feet and find solutions to any unexpected problems that arise. A big challenge to disaster planning is that all disasters are different and, in recent years, there have seen a variety of disasters and emergencies that are out of the norm, such as severe hurricanes that destroyed inland buildings, rampant fires in California, and nursing home shootings.

"Many people have to change their mindset and realize that there are no such things as safety zones," Franklin says. "We must have extensive plans and procedures in place and prepare for every possible disaster. It's better to be prepared for the worst and never have to use those plans, than be faced with a disaster and be unprepared."

MacKenzie Kimball is an associate editor in the long-term care market at HCPro. She writes PPS Alert for Long-term Care and manages MDSCentral.

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