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How Senior Living Communities Prepare for Emergencies

It's important to know that your loved ones are safe in the event of an emergency. Learn more about how senior living communities prepare for emergencies.

Everyday safety and security are common concerns for those researching a senior living community. But emergency preparedness for retirement communities should also be on your list of considerations. What kinds of emergency plans are already in place so that you or a loved one is safe and cared for during natural disasters, health crises or other emergency situations?

Emergency Plans and Safety Measures

“Preparedness, when properly pursued, is a way of life, not a sudden, spectacular program.” Spencer W. Kimball

Senior living communities of all kinds are uniquely prepared for emergency situations. Here are a few ways they are equipped to care for those who call a community home.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has established “national emergency preparedness requirements to ensure adequate planning for both natural and man-made disasters, and coordination with federal, state, tribal, regional and local emergency preparedness systems.” This means that Medicare- and Medicaid-certified health care facilities must be able to respond to emergencies in a “timely, collaborative, organized and effective manner.”

Most states have similar emergency preparedness guidelines for all senior living communities – from independent living to assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement communities.

These emergency situations include fires, natural disasters, severe weather, influenza and viruses, as well as homeland security threats. There are four elements to the CMS emergency preparedness rule:

Risk Assessment and Emergency Planning

  • This must be reviewed and updated at least annually, and includes planning for:
  • Hazards likely in geographic area
  • Care-related emergencies
  • Equipment and power failures
  • Interruption in communications, including cyber attacks
  • Loss of all/portion of facility and/or supplies

Communication Plan

In case of an emergency, there must be a plan to contact staff, patients’ physicians and other necessary people. It must:

  • Be well-coordinated within the facility, across health care providers, and with state and local public health departments and emergency management agencies.
  • Comply with federal and state laws

Policies and Procedures

Whatever policies and procedures are in place must comply with federal and state laws.

Training and Testing

Staff must be trained and procedures must be tested at least annually, and updated as needed. Training and testing must comply with federal and state laws.

Reducing the Risk During an Influenza or Viral Outbreak:

Because older adults are more at-risk for health issues, there are already strict protocols in place to prevent the spread of illness. To reduce the risk of an outbreak within any community, additional safety measures are put into place, which can include:

  • Additional cleaning and infection control practices
  • Personal protective equipment for staff
  • Screening visitors and suppliers for risk characteristics
  • Increased health monitoring of residents
  • Consulting with health care partners to address unique care needs
  • Limiting the size of group activities to reduce the risk of contagion
  • Curtailing visits from family and friends

Fire Safety

Whether they’re considered multi-family residential buildings and/or health care facilities, all senior living communities must adhere to state and local fire codes regarding material durability and flammability. They must also follow safety regulations set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for exit routes, fire safety plans and fire extinguishers.

Safety During Natural Disasters

Whether there is a need to evacuate or to shelter in place, communities will have a plan. Evacuation plans include procedures for getting everyone out safely, coordinating with local agencies and partners to arrange transportation and secure shelter for residents, and communication with families. Plans for sheltering in place include having emergency back-up power or generators, and extra food, water, medication and medical supplies.

Be Informed

As you visit senior living communities, ask about their emergency preparedness plans so you can have the information you need to make an informed decision that gives you the peace of mind you deserve.

Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care