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Tragic Tornado Sparks Dialogue on How To Improve Long-Term Care

During a large-scale tornado, Greenbriar Nursing Home struggled in evacuating residents, leading to 16 deaths. During the past tornado season that took a particularly devastating toll on the south, one nursing home found itself unprepared as an EF-5 tornado hit in Joplin, Missouri.

This isn’t to say that the nursing home failed or wasn’t trying to rescue as many people as possible; one staff member who has been described as “heroic” was found dead under the rubble with two elderly residents in his arms. Rather, challenges faced by nursing homes in the face of disaster are unique.

Nursing homes and hospitals are particularly vulnerable in cases of natural disasters for a few reasons. There are a lot of people in a small space. Many of the residents aren’t capable of getting themselves to safety because they’re old, handicapped, or otherwise debilitated.

It’s important to look at events like this and learn from them so we can find a better way to avoid tragedy in the future. Expert Brenda Phillips of the Center for the Study of Disasters and Extreme Events urges emergency situation drills, “the idea,” she said, “is working through different scenarios with each patient to ensure that everyone knows what to do when the disaster strikes. Another recommendation is working to build nursing homes to be extra-resistant to disasters, and has been called a “teachable moment to launch dialogue with engineers, architects, and others about what can be done to improve safety.”

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