Assisted living centers and nursing homes across Florida have spent the past two years making sure their emergency power plans were current and the proper generators were in place, in order to keep in compliance with state updated hurricane regulations requiring plans to keep residents cool and safe should a hurricane knock out power.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has created a whole new set of challenges and concerns of where residents would go should a hurricane hit Florida.
Kim Boudrie-Misko is a former nursing home administrator who now consults other facilities on how to keep their residents safe.
“My biggest fear is that there isn’t going to be a place for people to go and that’s their fear as well,” Boudrie-Misko said.
She says one of the biggest problems she sees coming up is the potential lack of personal protection equipment for residents and staff should they be forced to evacuate.
“They’re trying to buy them from China, Turkey and wherever they can get them. Literally, (they) don’t have enough,” Boudrie-Misko said.
Her husband Bob Misko is an emergency plan consultant who has helped hundreds of facilities get prepared for storm season but he says there is still no concrete plan on how to minimize residents potential risk of exposure to the virus should they be forced to evacuate.
“If you’ve got anyone with COVID-19 exposed or with an active case, you can’t just get up and evacuate to a facility that is a clean facility,” said Misko
Misko says he fears some facilities may decide to delay evacuating residents because of COVID-19 concerns and that could be a dangerous mistake.
"When you have something like a pandemic coming up and meet head on with what is supposed to be a fairly active hurricane season, I call it the perfect storm," said Misko.
He says state leaders and facility administrators need to come up with a plan before a hurricane strikes.
"Its going to take a lot of work from the top down and everybody needs to be engaged with this," said Misko.
Small facility owners and administrators agree.
“Right now we are in emergency planning mode every single day,” said Lana Watts, who owns and operates a small six-bed assisted-living center in Casselberry.
She says she’s doing everything she can to protect her residents and staff from COVID-19 and any potential hurricane should it hit.
"Basically the thing we have to do as operators and administrators and is protect our residents," said Watts. "Which means not only are we entering with our masks on, if we have to leave we need to make sure those residents have a mask on. They need to be protected as well as that other facility."
Boudrie-Misko said most smaller facilities don’t have a lot of options on where to go should a hurricane hit. And she says she fears schools and hotels that could be used for the general public to evacuate would not be good for the elderly and infirm.
“At this point they’re searching and they’re scrambling, and they are trying to find some plan,” Boudrie-Misko said. “Typically if when you talk classrooms you’re not going to have beds and all the care that a geriatric patient or a vulnerable patient needs so my concern is you might not be able to do that.”
Florida Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz says he is working with FEMA to develop a plan that could include shelters which only accept people infected with coronavirus.
Moskowitz said the state will stockpile equipment ahead of storm season, including obtaining 10 million masks.