For the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, which lasts from June 1 to November 30, forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are predicting a “near-normal” season with 9 to 15 named storms, of which 4 to 8 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher). Of these, 2 to 4 could become major hurricanes (a category 3, 4, or 5, with winds of 111 mph+).

Between the record flooding throughout the Midwest and South, wildfires sweeping across some Western states, earthquakes rumbling southern California, and the impending threat of tropical storms that could hit the East and Gulf Coasts, it seems like an apropos time to discuss the importance of emergency preparedness for retirement communities such as continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs, also called life plan communities).

Creating CCRC emergency plans

Because they are both multi-family residential communities as well as healthcare facilities, CCRCs present some unique challenges when it comes to emergency preparedness for events like a fire, earthquake, or severe storm.

Any multi-family residential building or healthcare facility in this country will have certain safety requirements that are determined by the state fire marshal and/or local fire chief, as well as local building codes related to the durability and flammability of materials. Because CCRCs are also a workplace for their many employees, their buildings will have Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety regulations too for things like emergency exit routes, fire safety plans, and fire extinguishers.

While CCRCs on the whole are not regulated at the federal level, there is a caveat. Since many CCRCs house Medicare-certified skilled nursing facilities, these communities’ healthcare centers would also be expected to adhere to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) emergency preparedness regulations. These rules mandate both the development of procedures around proactive readiness, as well as the formation of plans in case an evacuation is deemed necessary.

>> Related: What to Ask About a CCRC’s Emergency Preparedness

CMS emergency preparedness rules

CMS requires that healthcare facilities, which would include the healthcare center of a Medicare-certified CCRC that provides skilled nursing care, must have an emergency plan in place that includes processes and procedures for both residents and staff. The plan must address the continuity of care for the facility’s patient-residents and also include specifics on how the facility will educate staff members about protecting themselves and their patients during an emergency.

These CMS-mandated plans have to take into account a variety of scenarios such as loss of essential services like electricity and water. They have to have contingencies in place based on whether residents can remain on-site or must be evacuated to another location. They also have to have a plan prepared should the CCRC become uninhabitable for a period of time, for example due to fire or flood damage, and how they will return the community to “normal” following the emergency event.

Again, these regulations would apply only to Medicare-certified CCRCs, but all CCRCs should have a similar emergency plan in place in the event a disaster limits services or makes the community unsafe or uninhabitable, requiring evacuation.

If you want to learn more about the CMS regulations around emergency preparedness for Medicare-certified healthcare facilities, sections J and K of this FAQ speak specifically to hospitals and skilled nursing facilities.

>> Related: After the Storm: Rethinking a Florida Retirement?

Understand the plan

There’s no doubt: There’s a lot to think about and plan for when it comes to preparing for an emergency event at a CCRC. Even residents residing in the independent living portion of the community may need a little help evacuating in an emergency situation like a building fire.

When touring a CCRC, it is definitely worth asking what plans they have in place to handle evacuating residents—both those who are healthy and active, as well as those who have health or mobility issues. And be sure to ask how often they practice their evacuation procedures with both employees and residents.

Of course, some CCRCs are located in areas that are more prone to natural disasters than others—Florida and California, for example. For communities in areas that are known to suffer a larger number of emergency events like hurricanes or wildfires, it is especially important to be sure that the CCRC you are considering has a robust emergency preparedness and evacuation plan in place. It’s crucial that you feel confident that you will be safe and protected in any emergency situation.

CMS developed a helpful emergency checklist for long-term care facilities, their residents, and residents’ loved ones. It may offer you some ideas of things you want to be sure to ask about at the CCRCs you are considering.

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