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Nursing home evacuations during storms -- stressful but necessary

If you have a loved one in a nursing home in the path of a storm, you want assurance that they'll be safely evacuated if necessary. However, those evacuations can be highly stressful and frightening to elderly people. Further, the accommodations in the facilities to which they're moved are often inferior to what they're used to.

Recently, as Hurricane Florence hovered off the East Coast, more than 2,200 residents of some 113 South Carolina facilities were evacuated to inland locations on orders from the governor. One man felt that his wife, who's in her 80s and paralyzed, shouldn't have been required to move. He said she went from having a private room in her Summerville nursing home to a bed in a common room. He said that some evacuees had only mattresses on the floor. He doesn't fault the nursing home staff, whom he calls "a bunch of heroes," but the mandatory evacuation order from the governor.

Ultimately, their area was spared from the brunt of the storm. However, according to a South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) spokesman, his agency had to follow the governor's orders and require nursing homes to execute their evacuation plans.

All facilities licensed by DHEC must have an evacuation plan. He noted that even before the evacuation order, the agency was in contact with these facilities, "helping them get assets, ambulances, transportation, any medical stuff that they may need...."

While evacuations are never easy or pleasant, advocates for the elderly say they're necessary. No one wants a repeat of what happened last year when power outages caused by Hurricane Irma caused multiple deaths in a Florida nursing home.

The number of nursing facilities along our coast in increasing, so more evacuations are likely in the future. The head of the South Carolina Health Care Association says they try to move people to facilities where they can get the care they're used to. As one nursing home official says, "We recognize it is an inconvenience for many, but we try and make sure the people are as comfortable as possible….and keep everybody's spirits high.''

If you have a loved one in a South Carolina nursing home, it's wise to ask about their evacuation plan and keep tabs on what is happening if a weather-related or other emergency arises to help ensure their safety and comfort.

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