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Combining COVID-19 and a Weather Emergency: A Recipe for Disaster?

COVID-19 + hurricane

 Registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) have been helping acute and post acute care facilities navigate the stormy waters of COVID-19 for months. So, what happens when a weather emergency approaches a facility that is under COVID-19 precautions? In August 2020 in southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina, post-acute care facilities revisited their emergency plans in advance of the added stress of a hurricane strike. Hurricane Isaisis came ashore as a category 1 hurricane, fortunately with little damage.

In the aftermath of a storm, it’s a good idea for health care facilities and their RDNs to take a few minutes to consider how to manage a natural disaster or weather emergency while dealing with a pandemic.

  1. Acknowledge emotions. In post-acute care, residents of skilled nursing facilities are already feeling isolated, lonely and in some cases depressed or anxious because of months of COVID-19 precautions. Since mid-March they have had no visitors, no group dining, and no group activities. A pending weather emergency will likely add another layer of uneasiness for patients as well as family members that can’t visit their loved ones. Preparing in advance will reassure residents/patients and staff. A good communication plan to keep families informed before, during, and after the crisis is also needed.
  2. Rely on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). They provide regulatory guidance for COVID-19, as well as other types of emergencies. CMS’s Emergency Preparedness Checklist is a useful tool to help facilities assure they are ready for an emergency situation.
  3. Take inventory for adequate emergency water, food, supplemental nutrition, and supplies for the department, including appropriate personal protective equipment (masks, face shields, gowns).
    • Assure a back-up water supply for at least 3-7 days of drinking water (1/2 gallon per person per day).
    • Disposable dishware may be needed for the entire facility (including staff) in the event the dishwasher can’t be used.
  4. Plan to use perishable foods first in the event of loss of power to refrigerators and/or freezers.
  5. Recognize that staffing shortages may occur during the emergency as a result of transportation or personal issues. Emergency menus that require minimal preparation may be helpful even if the only true emergency is a severe staffing shortage.
  6. Adjust emergency policies and procedures to reflect COVID-19 positive patients, those exposed to COVID-19 who are in isolation, and social distancing practices.
  7. Remind staff that proper handwashing remains key to preventing the spread of COVID-19 but also other viral and bacterial illnesses and must continue throughout any additional emergency situation.
  8. Update emergency contact information for all staff members.
  9. Be flexible. Many facilities have adjusted to a “new normal” because of COVID-19. Adding a weather emergency or natural disaster will require new levels of preparation, perseverance, creativity, and patience.
  10. For additional resources, free webinars and other information, visit our website at https://www.beckydorner.com/covid19/.

Most importantly, the health and safety of a facility’s residents and staff are the primary concern during any emergency, whether it be COVID-19, an emergency situation such as a hurricane, or both.

About Becky Dorner & Associates

Becky Dorner, RDN, LD, FAND, is widely known as one of the nation’s leading experts on nutrition and long term health care. Her company, Becky Dorner & Associates, Inc, is a trusted source of valuable continuing education, nutrition resources, and creative solutions, including the Emergency/Disaster Plan for Food and Dining Services. Visit www.beckydorner.com to sign up for free news and information.

References

  1. Dorner, B. Emergency/Disaster Plan for Food and Dining Services. 2018 edition. Dunedin, FL: Becky Dorner & Associates; 2018.

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