Sandra W. Reed: Make a life care plan before disaster hits

The Time of Disaster Is Too Late 

Attorney Sandra W. Reed answers your life planning questions.

Attorney Sandra W. Reed answers your life planning questions.

This year’s tornado season literally hit home when back-to-back tornadoes struck the town where I grew up. I followed the storms approaching Louisville, Miss., through The Weather Channel. I absorbed the news online, from Facebook postings and phone calls that life-long friends had lost their homes, that the Georgia Pacific plant and the water supply system had both been destroyed. The medical center and nursing home had been severely damaged and had sprung a gas leak. Worst of all, at least 14 citizens had lost their lives.

The 150 residents of the nursing home were evacuated to the First Methodist Church, because it had electric power. Family members were then contacted to retrieve their loved ones, meaning many had to be transported to homes without water and electricity.

The needs of most of these residents exceeded the family’s caregiving capabilities, even when the home was operating under normal conditions. Additionally, the evacuation had to be conducted with such haste that clothing, toiletries, and even medications, were left behind  Most of these families had not contemplated a contingency plan in the case a disaster like these tornadoes occurred.

My own family members were in the category of the unprepared. My Aunt Kathleen, who recently celebrated her101st birthday, was one of the evacuees of the nursing home. Her son, at his home when the tornadoes hit, learned of the damage to the nursing home only through my call to him by cell phone. His home was among those losing electricity, disconnecting him from radio and television coverage.

Cousin George managed to get Aunt Kathleen back into her home safely, but the lack of water and electricity were not his only obstacles. No food preparation was possible in the house. All the refrigerated foodstuffs had to be disposed of to avoid spoilage. George, single and never a parent, lacked the skill to change his mother’s diapers, a daily requirement.

The nursing home had been cordoned off, so returning there to retrieve clothing, underwear, toiletries and medicine was not an option. New clothing would have to be hastily purchased. Prescriptions would have to be refilled. Supplies of toothbrushes and toothpaste had to be replenished. All this would have to be accomplished amidst the chaos surrounding the entire area and while my cousin maintained a work schedule in order not to lose his job.

Short term, my cousin managed by taking Aunt Kathleen to a hotel where lodging and food were provided. He called upon a female friend for matters of hygiene. Then he searched for a facility that would admit my aunt until her former nursing home was restored. He found a nursing home located where a relative could routinely visit but this facility is located two-and-a-half hours away. It would have to do, at least temporarily, and maybe permanently, if the destroyed nursing home cannot be rebuilt soon.

Plan Before You See It Coming

Emergency preparedness plans published by the Centers for Disease Control or the American Red Cross, suggest learning the warning signs, escape routes and the basics for taking shelter in emergencies.  These suggestions are inadequate to insure a family is prepared for emergency caregiving for those loved ones who are forced to leave long-term care facilities due to disaster. Every family with a loved one in a long-term care facility should establish a detailed personal plan to implement in the event of disaster. At a minimum, included in that plan should be the following:

  • Learn the procedures the facility employs for emergency evacuation;
  • Provide the facility with as email addresses, land line and cell phone numbers for nearby family members;
  • Provide the facility with land line, cell phone and email addresses for family members in areas outside the area of the facility for use in the event that communication with nearby relatives is not available;
  • Provide your loved one with a cell phone and have one yourself, understanding it may not work if circuits have been interfered with;
  • Be prepared for communication in the area to be cut off and request relatives or friends living outside your area to check on the family member in long-term care and keep family members informed if the facility has been hit by disaster;
  • Maintain a battery-run generator that can provide emergency power and learn how to operate it safely;
  • Maintain outside of the facility a bag packed with clothing, toiletries and, if possible, even medications for resident of the facility;
  • Decide where you will take your loved one for short-term care if he or she has to be evacuated from the long-term care facility.  Identify the particular hotel, friends or relatives homes where they can be taken.  Have back-ups in case the first-choice location is included in the disaster area;
  • Identify a back-up facility where the loved one can stay while their damaged facility is being repaired, or even permanently, if the facility is not likely to be re-opened;
  • Train family members to administer the medications the family member takes, perform all care necessary for basic hygiene, including changing diapers, if necessary.  If no nearby family members are capable of handling these tasks, identify neighbors or friends who can be called upon in an emergency to complete these tasks; and
  • Maintain lists of medications, contact information for medical providers and any special instructions relevant to the care of the loved one in multiple locations, including with remote friends or relatives.  Remember that just posting lists of these on the refrigerator in the home is not adequate, given that the home may be destroyed or inaccessible in an emergency.

Tailor your plan to your loved one’s individual needs and the available resources, making it as detailed as possible to reduce stress and error when it’s needed.

Sandra W. Reed is an attorney practicing in Glen Rose, of counsel with the Fort Worth elder law firm of Katten & Benson. Phone: 254-797-0211; email:


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