With Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria having devastated the Caribbean, the southeastern US coastline, and all of Puerto Rico and contributing to the heat-related deaths of 12 Florida nursing home residents, the need for training in emergency preparedness for nursing homes could not be clearer. Last month, nursing home managers and workers representing 40 homes throughout Nassau County gathered to discuss emergency preparedness. The conference was sponsored by the Greater New York Healthcare Facilities Association (GNYHCFA) and the 1199SEIU Training and Employment Funds in collaboration with government officials, advocates, and emergency management experts. The goal of the conference was to learn about improvements made in the five years since Hurricane Sandy and identify work that still needs to be done.

The conference opened with workers representing two Nassau County nursing homes sharing the effects of Sandy. “We worked sixteen hour days without sleeping in our own beds. People really came together during that time,” said Lila Glover, a CNA from Grandell Nursing Home in Long Beach, New York.

Hempstead Nursing Home in Long Island received more than 100 patients from neighboring nursing homes damaged by Sandy. Laura Jerome Pierre, a physical therapy assistant, shared how staff worked together during that time to help patients, regardless of their job titles. “We stayed and finished what needed to be done in order to help all of those patients. It was a very stressful and emotional time,” she said.

Morning speakers included Ann DiSimone from the Nassau County Department of Health, Patricia Moran from the New York State Department of Health and Maury Meredith from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Throughout the day, attendees learned about ways to identify emergency preparedness partners and about improvements made since Hurricane Sandy, and reviewed the CMS Final Rule requiring nursing home facilities to develop and update an emergency plan annually. Participants also had ample opportunity to speak with staff from other facilities, share resources, strengthen existing relationships and create new ones.

In the afternoon, Zach Goldfarb, a nationally certified emergency management consultant, led participants through the CMS standards and how to conduct their facility’s hazards vulnerability assessment, laying the groundwork for a November 7 follow-up conference. At that time, participating nursing homes will have the opportunity to test their emergency preparedness plans in a simulated exercise.

Michael Balboni, Executive Director of the GNYHCFA, congratulated the management and union leaders of the 40 nursing homes present.  “You can never be too prepared.  You can review your policies and practice your drills, but then something unexpected happens and you have to be flexible.  That’s where the teamwork and relationships really matter.”

Daine Williams, Assistant Division Director in the Nursing Home Division for 1199SEIU-United Healthcare Workers East, praised attendees for taking the time to learn new strategies that could benefit their facilities and residents. “Every day, it is your mission to keep people safe and to make sure they are given the best care. That mission becomes critical when disaster threatens. I thank all of you for your commitment today and going forward.”

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