Enhancing Nursing Home Preparedness


Northern Virginia Emergency Response System

Natural disasters can occur at any time, and can have a devastating impact on our most vulnerable populations, including those residing in nursing homes.  The Derecho storm that impacted the Northern Virginia region in June of 2012 showed how harsh nature can be, taking out power and 9-1-1 service in the region for several days.  While Hurricane Sandy largely spared our region, other hurricanes have hit hard. 

The Northern Virginia Emergency Response System (NVERS), the regional emergency preparedness coalition, working with the Northern Virginia Hospital Alliance (NVHA), formed the NVERS Extended Care Working Group in July of 2012.  This group brings together local emergency managers, public health preparedness leaders, nursing home leadership, and other stakeholders to look at how best to enhance the preparedness of our region’s nursing homes. 

Using funding available from the US Department of Health and Human Services Hospital Preparedness Program, a number of critical projects were launched that will exponentially increase the preparedness of Northern Virginia’s nursing homes. The projects will fill gaps in planning for evacuation and surge, communications and information sharing, and electrical resilience. 

The first project evaluates the resources required to evacuate each nursing home in the region.  It factored in the total number of patients, how many need ambulance transport, etc.  It also looked at how many patients each nursing home could absorb if another facility, or facilities, in the region needed to evacuate.  This evaluation is critical in helping plan for evacuation from nursing homes during an emergency.

The second regional project involved doing an assessment to determine the capacity of the emergency generator in each nursing facility in the region and looked at what it would take to provide emergency power to these facilities should their systems fail.  The data from the electrical assessment and surge/evacuation study were provided to the nursing homes, local emergency management, local and state public health preparedness, and other key stakeholders so that they would have a realistic picture of backup power capabilities and how they could be enhanced.

The third critical project involved providing emergency communications capability since normal communication systems failed during the Derecho.  Every nursing home in the region has now been assigned an 800 MHz radio.  These radios, similar to the ones installed in every hospital in the region, will connect the nursing homes with each other, with local emergency operations centers (EOCs), and with the Regional Hospital Coordination Center (RHCC).  This connectivity will allow communication during emergencies when other methods fail; and to ensure these radios always work, they will be hard-wired into their generator-backed power system.  Each nursing home also now has access to the regional emergency alerting system and information-sharing platform, the Virginia Healthcare Alerting and Status System (VHASS).  This web-based system will allow nursing homes to share critical information, such as bed status, with local emergency managers and public health preparedness teams during emergencies.

These projects, and the work of the NVERS Extended Care Working Group, will continue to collaborate on additional preparedness activities, such as developing plans and agreements for patient movement during emergencies, and conducting exercises to enhance the ability to respond to emergencies.


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