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How Nursing Homes Are Preparing For Hurricane Florence


One group that's particularly vulnerable during a storm like Florence is the elderly. We've reached Tom Akins, CEO of LeadingAge in North Carolina. His group works with retirement communities. That includes nursing homes. Welcome to the program.

TOM AKINS: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: I understand you were in Wilmington, N.C., today. Can you talk about what it looks like in terms of people getting ready?

AKINS: Sure. There's quite a bit of angst in the air right now probably best captured by the fact that if you don't have gasoline by now, you're not going to get it. Lots of folks who are boarding up houses and businesses, sandbags being filled. And I think the - just the sheer magnitude of the storm that's on the way, something that we haven't seen at this level since 1954 in North Carolina, has folks on edge, which, if you think about a person who is in a nursing facility and who has lost lots of independence and lots of ability and you magnify the angst that you or I would feel if we were in this situation by a thousand times, it probably doesn't approach how they feel about what's about to happen.

CORNISH: So what's involved in evacuating a retirement home facility or a nursing home facility? What are the things that the managers have to take into account?

AKINS: First and foremost, it's the safety and security of the residents who live in that community. And at the end of the day, if that community cannot to the best of their ability with the knowledge that they have guarantee that safety and security, then they're going to look at whether or not an evacuation makes sense. I was talking to a colleague of mine who has been in this field for about 25 years and talked about the magnitude of the decision because the times in the past when he's had to evacuate, on average, he knows that he's going to lose one resident because of their acuity level, because of the stress that's involved, because of that move. And so it really is a decision that nobody takes lightly but that everybody trains for and practices for and studies for year-round.

CORNISH: If for some reason people decide to shelter in place, what are the kinds of things that they need? Like, what kind of checklist do you have?

AKINS: Any skilled nursing facility is going to have checklists that are born out of the regulatory environment that they operate within and just the humanitarian environment that they operate in. So they're going to be things like, what's our water supply like? What's our power supply like? What's our food supply, our medications? What's our staffing level like?

CORNISH: Tom, what's your biggest concern right now?

AKINS: The biggest concern that I have is the length of time that the storm may last. Oftentimes we concentrate just on landfall. And what we know from experience is that this - that the issues that nursing facilities face extend well beyond when the storm leaves because you have issues surrounding water and power and food. It's not happening in a vacuum. Everybody else is dealing with the same kinds of issues. And so it's trying to figure out how over the long term you're able to position folks so that they can keep people safe and secure. And one of the ways that we do that is to reach out to other of our communities across the state who volunteer and say, look; I've got this many beds you can use, or I can send this staff, or I can send these generators, whatever that might be. And we try to play that coordinating role.

CORNISH: Tom Akins is president and CEO of LeadingAge North Carolina. They work with nursing home facilities across that state. Thanks so much.

AKINS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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