Dozens of people were killed and scores more injured in a massive blaze that erupted in a nursing home in Quebec. Rescue and recovery efforts have been repeatedly halted by frigid, icy conditions, as authorities speculate that smoking inside the center may have been the cause of the fire.
The tragedy is a reminder that nursing homes are far too often poorly prepared to handle an emergency or natural disaster. A recent report by the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services highlighted what amounts to a national emergency.
Nursing homes must have plans to cope with fires, tornadoes, winter storms and, yes, even hurricanes. New York City wrongful death lawyers, however, are aware that all too often, these plans fall short when it comes time to act.
For example, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the state’s health department launched an investigation into the care (or lack thereof) provided by the Promenade Rehabilitation and Health Care Center to patients, who are said to have been deprived of even the most basic necessities. The New York Times reported that patients did not receive enough food and medicine, as officials are accused of not having sufficient supplies for the emergency. With no electricity for days, cold began to grip many of the frail and elderly patients, prompting administrators to evacuate some 200 patients to emergency shelters. However in doing so, neither medical records nor staffers accompanied the patients, as required by state law. This meant that weeks after the storm, family members were desperately searching for loved ones.
This was despite the fact that prior to the storm, the state health department had ordered all nursing homes in the storm’s path to stay at 150 percent staffing levels, stock three days’ worth of food and medicine and make sure there would be a working generator on site.
The inspector general’s report from 2012 indicates that while many nursing homes across the country did meet the bare minimum federal requirements for written emergency plans and preparedness training, there were numerous gaps identified. For example, many of these plans omitted basic checklists for staffers. There were also issues with reliable transportation contracts, and many of these facilities had never coordinated with local emergency management officials. Plus, there was no plan in place for residents who might (inevitably) develop health problems in the midst of the storm. Many nursing homes were also ill-equipped to communicate with family members and loved ones in the wake of a disaster.
The deadly fire out of Quebec is reminiscent of another tragedy more than 10 years ago now in Connecticut, where 10 residents were killed and dozens more injured in a mid-winter blaze. Many residents were unable to move on their own. Most of those who died had suffered from smoke inhalation. Again, a smoker was to blame.
While many survivors and loved ones reached an out-of-court settlement with the nursing home, the nursing home is still litigating the matter with its insurance company in Lexington Ins. Co. v. Lexington Healthcare Group, Inc., which was reviewed recently by the Connecticut Supreme Court.
The bottom line is that while nursing home administrators can’t control the weather or other disastrous occurrences, they certainly can and should prepare for them. Those that do not may be held liable for their actions.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Gaps Continue to Exist in Nursing Home Emergency Preparedness and Response During Disasters: 2007-2010, April 2012, Inspector General, Department of Health and Human Services
Lexington Ins. Co. v. Lexington Healthcare Group, Inc., January 2014, Connecticut Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Negligence in New York Assisted Living a Major Concern, Dec. 18, 2013, New York City Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog