Study shows Hurricane Irma associated with deaths at nursing homes

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FILE Photo of weather conditions Hurricane Irma in 2017. Credit: WINK News.

Hurricane season is not over yet, and researchers are calling for more preparations at nursing homes to protect seniors. A study shows hundreds of people in Florida nursing homes likely died indirectly from Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Researchers want to see some changes at nursing homes in Florida before the next big storm.

Searchers at USF and Brown University say care is more difficult after a hurricane. They say it comes down to availability of staff and how long people stay in the nursing home.

An expert we spoke to said seniors are the most vulnerable even when the threat of a hurricane or the coronavirus isn’t looming.

Hurricane Irma hit three years ago, but the memorials and the struggle to recover is still fresh for many in Southwest Florida.

The Naples Senior Center became even more of a necessity for people affected by the storm.

“As soon as we got air conditioning, we opened up,” said Dr. Jaclynn Faffer, the president and CEO of the center. “We were a site for Harry Chapin mobile food pantry, and our seniors came here to get water and supplies and to cool off because many of them did not have services.”

Faffer says the people most affected were seniors, especially those in long-term care facilities.

“They are the most vulnerable,” Faffer said. “No one goes into a nursing home because they are physically OK. They are suffering from respiratory diseases like COPD. They have cardiac issues, and these are the people who will struggle the most if or when the power goes out.”

Learning that Hurricane Irma could have caused the deaths of more than 400 people in nursing homes, is heartbreaking to Faffer. But, unfortunately, it’s not at all surprising.

“There are issues with heat exhaustion and then there is the emotional stress that one goes through,” Faffer said.

The study says long-stay residents experienced greater mortality after a storm. Researchers believe public health officials should prioritize seniors in facilities in disaster situations in the future.

Now, generators are required at nursing homes and assisted living facilities to keep their residents cool if the power goes out during a storm in the state. Faffer says that could save lives.

“If there’s a generator and refrigeration is OK and air conditioning is OK, I think that is the largest part of what they can do,” Faffer said.

MORE: Association Between Exposure to Hurricane Irma and Mortality and Hospitalization in Florida Nursing Home Residents

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