HANSON — When a “tornado” struck, the state’s assisted living, nursing and rehabilitation facilities had to coordinate evacuations from affected areas.
It was just a drill, but an important one.
Among the facilities participating in the mock facility evacuation scenario on Tuesday, June 19 was All American Assisted Living in Hanson where resident volunteers were staged awaiting transportation to “Resident Accepting Facilities” within MassMAP. It was part of a full-scale, statewide annual exercise for simulating disaster at nursing facilities and covered how staff and families would be notified, recovery and repair of building damage — down to working with local public safety personnel.
Responders included the professionally trained staff at the Hanson facility – which consist of nurses, certified nursing assistants, physical therapists, and other professional staff. Hanson Fire Chief Jerome Thompson Jr., Lt. Sherilyn Mullin and Lt. Charles Barends as well as Hanson Police Sgt. Peter Casey represented the town’s first responders at the drill.
No patients were actually moved in the exercise — “evacuations” were done via fax machine on this day.
“Everyone [on staff] has their priority, it’s just how does it fall into disaster mode?” said facilitator Darren Osleger of Russell Phillips & Associates (RPA), a fire and emergency management consulting firm out of Fairport, N.Y. “It’s very similar to incident command … a fairly new concept in health care.”
Osleger said after the event that he thought the exercise went well.
“What we’re trying to do is better prepare ourselves and put ourselves in a position so, if we ever had to evacuate a building like that, through communicating with the coordinating center, having … the team really figure out certain tasks, they were able to identify open beds and correct fit for the residents if they had to be moved.”
The All American staff communicated with other participating facilities via computer and telephone to find open beds for evacuating patients.
“We are proud to have been chosen to participate in this exercise, although we spend countless hours training all of our associates in disaster events, a real live drill allows us to put our training to the test,” All American Assisted Living Executive Director Kristen Ward said before the event.
Chief Thompson said the exercise provided, especially for his command staff, the ability to iron out any problems or work with All American so things would run smoother if something did happen.
“We’re here to observe and assist them,” he said. “It gives an opportunity to see how they would handle stuff internally before we got here.”
The purpose of the exercise is to evaluate the interaction of the long-term care/mutual aid plan (LTC-MAP) members in each region in preparation for internal events. Though rare in such communities, the evacuation of an assisted living community is a complex event requiring significant coordination with the local community and region to ensure the safety of all residents, associates, and family members involved.
“I was impressed,” said Community Relations Director Bonnie Durrell at the midpoint of the tabletop exercise in which All American had to find beds in other facilities for eight male residents and 17 females, plus an additional 13 residents requiring care in a secure or dementia facility. “We have a plan in place, now we’ve used it and we have somebody to call and there’s a chain of command. … It’s going really well.”
The resident volunteers were given name tags bearing the name of the “victim” they were portraying for the exercise and a go-bag representing the one they would take with them in a real emergency. The bags would contain their medications — represented this day by candies or placebos — and a change of clothes.
“When they had the flooding in Texas, they were saying everyone had totes [packed with their needed belongings], which looked heavy,” Ward said. “We thought that it would be good to have a bug-out bag for this drill so they would have at least their meds and a change of clothes. The most important thing is that their medications go with them and for each of them we have their prescription list.”