To help nursing homes, assisted living communities, and other long-term care facilities prepare for and respond to a natural disaster, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Healthcare Coalition of Rhode Island (HCRI) conducted evacuation exercises at facilities throughout the state yesterday and today.
At 113 facilities and communities, residents or volunteers playing the parts of residents had their personal items and medications packed and were moved to holding areas where they waited to be transported to receiving facilities. Although rare, the evacuation of a healthcare facility is a complex event requiring significant coordination within the municipality and the State. The exercise involved staff from the nursing homes and assisted living communities, local police and fire departments, emergency medical services (EMS) agencies, emergency management agencies, RIDOH, and HCRI.
"Preparedness is a core function of public health," said RIDOH Deputy Director Ana Novais. "We have carefully studied previous evacuations, such as one related to the Aquidneck Island gas outage earlier this year, and are incorporating lessons learned. Our aim is to help facilities and the State as a whole be as prepared as possible to support residents, patients, and employees in advance of our next emergency."
Annual evacuation exercises are designed to test the Rhode Island Long-Term Care Mutual Aid Plan, which helps nursing homes and assisted living communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. Initiated in 2013 following Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy, Rhode Island's Long-Term Care Mutual Aid Plan provides a network of support for nursing homes and assisted living communities that allows them to efficiently share resources and receive displaced residents following a facility's or community's evacuation.
Within the past year, the Rhode Island Long-Term Care Mutual Aid Plan has been used to support an assisted living community evacuation due to loss of air conditioning during a heatwave, a partial nursing home evacuation due to a burst pipe, and the nursing home and assisted living community evacuation from St. Clare Home-Newport during the Aquidneck Island gas outage in January.
"We recognized that the training and exercises that we conducted as part of the Long-Term Care Mutual Aid Plan were so important when we had to evacuate our facility," said Mary Beth Daignault, the Administrator at St. Clare Home-Newport. "The staff had the opportunity to fill out the forms and practice the processes just months before we had to perform them in a real-world event. This week's exercise reinforced the lessons we learned and will help us continue to grow and improve."
The Healthcare Coalition of Rhode Island is a forum for healthcare organizations, public health, EMS, and emergency management agencies to develop a networked plan for interaction and collaboration in disaster-related planning, mitigation, response, and recovery efforts that address Rhode Island's healthcare system. Previous years' exercises have focused on one or two nursing homes and assisted living communities evacuating, while the other facilities and communities accepted their residents. In 2018, the scenario was designed so that each facility and community had the opportunity to test its procedures for evacuation, instead of receipt of residents. Based on the lessons learned from the real-world evacuations, the exercises conducted this week once again forced the evacuation of each facility and community to allow them to build on lessons learned from the 2018 exercises and to emphasize the processes that needed more attention during the real-world evacuations.
RIDOH, the Healthcare Coalition of Rhode Island, and RPA (a Jensen-Hughes company that provides fire and emergency management consultation services) helped plan the exercise.