Thursday, June 25, 2009

FHCA Testifies Before US Aging Committee, Urges Importance of Coordination Between Policymakers & Long Term Care Providers In Planning for Disasters

On Wednesday, the Florida Health Care Association’s (FHCA) Senior Vice President of Policy and lead emergency preparedness representative, LuMarie Polivka-West, testified before Congress, focusing on the importance of a coordinated effort between long term care facilities and the government in all aspects of disaster planning and preparedness [to view the complete testimony, click here].

“The Florida Health Care Association has been taking the lead in Florida in ensuring that our state’s frail elders and citizens with disabilities residing in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are able to retain access to the long term care and services essential to their health and well being during a disaster,” stated J. Emmett Reed, FHCA Executive Director. “We encourage Congress to take swift action to ensure that all care providers – regardless of tax status – can access federal assistance for disaster relief efforts.”

In her testimony before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Polivka- West discussed complications that occurred during the 2005 hurricane season, stating, “As decisions were being made regarding evacuations, many nursing home administrators did not have the same knowledge or guidance about when and if they should evacuate as hospitals did. Following several hurricanes during that season, utility services did not understand the special needs of the frail elderly and those with disabilities in nursing homes and assisted living communities, leaving them without electricity and telephone services.”

As the Senior Vice President with the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) and Principal Investigator of the John A. Hartford Foundation Emergency Preparedness grant, Polivka-West discussed the steps that need to be taken by our nation’s long term care facilities and policymakers to develop appropriate disaster planning. These steps include creating a disaster planning guide and software that facilities can refer to, including disaster preparation training exercises in nursing home staff program, and assembling annual hurricane summits.

Polivka-West addressed the importance of keeping facilities informed and supplying them with the tools to be prepared in any given emergency situation. She stressed that forming a constructive dialogue with legislation is crucial to creating a well-executed disaster plan. “Due to the very vulnerable and complex population that we serve it is essential that we work together with policy makers to better prepare ourselves for any disaster,” stated Ms. Polivka-West.

“The road ahead is no doubt challenging,” concluded Polivka-West. “But the important task before us is to objectively examine how local, state, and federal governments – working with transportation, the health care spectrum and business groups – can better prepare for and coordinate disaster recovery efforts for our most vulnerable citizens nationwide.”

FHCA partners with its national affiliate, the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), to make available emergency preparedness resources and information to other long term care facilities across the country. Polivka-West serves as a member of the AHCA/NCAL Disaster Preparedness Committee. FHCA has worked in concert with AHCA/NCAL in coordinating a number of national summits, including the most recent one in December 2008 which brought together state and federal partners in long term care, transportation and emergency management to examine the availability of and access to transportation resources for long term care providers during emergency situations.

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