MERI, Fire Department Assist Facilities With Disaster Relief

By Michael Waddell

The Medical Education & Research Institute (MERI) and the Memphis Fire Department are working with local long-term care nursing and other direct care staff to care for the elderly in the event of fire, tornado and flood-related emergencies.

On Thursday, Feb. 21, the Memphis Jewish Home & Rehab in Cordova welcomed the team for a training session and disaster drill focusing on tornado-related emergency protocols.

“This training gives the staff a chance to practice working with their own equipment to make sure everyone is comfortable with the process because you want it to be routine when you actually have a disaster,” said Diana Kelly, MERI manager of institutional development.

Kelly and Lt. Jim Logan of the Memphis Fire Department led the session, which was funded from grants received in 2012 from the H. W. Durham Foundation and the Assisi Foundation of Memphis.

“In a crisis situation, emergency services may take a little while to arrive on the scene,” Logan said. “Places like this need to be self-sufficient for at least a short amount of time, knowing to turn off gas and electricity and getting patients down to where they can be transported.”

The idea for the training came about following local flooding in May 2011, which resulted in the evacuation of several nursing home facilities, as well as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in August 2005.

“Elderly patients can be distressed and/or confused very easily, and they are a very vulnerable population,” Kelly said. “In Katrina, when they had to evacuate, they lost people. So we teach them systems that they can use at the facility to track their patients if they have to evacuate, and things that they might not have in their plans on a daily basis.”

MERI provided human patient simulators (instead of using the elderly patients) to train all levels of nursing personnel including preparation, response and relief skills to ensure residents receive the highest quality of care before, during and after disasters. Hands-on training is most often not an option due to the fragility and safety concerns of facility residents.

Participants discussed their disaster relief plan and then ran drills simulating a situation where one side of the top floor of the facility had been damaged by a tornado. The staff moved “patients” safely and securely out of the building and down stairwells using Stryker evacuation stair chairs and slings.

“It makes our staff so much more comfortable by having the ability to practice,” said Joel Ashner, Memphis Jewish Home & Rehab community relations director.

The Memphis Jewish Home & Rehab is a retirement home with 120 patients cared for by a staff of more than 200. The facility opened in 1992 following a move from the previous location on Tucker Road, which opened in 1927.

MERI, working with the Memphis Office of Emergency Management, has used its disaster relief funding to put on previous training drills at the Allen Morgan Health Center in Memphis and the Ave Maria Home in Bartlett.

The national need for a care facility workforce trained to respond in an emergency will become more critical as the elderly population grows, especially within the baby boomers. MERI is working in conjunction with local community partners in EMS, hospital safety and public health to implement the program across facilities in the Mid-South.

MERI is currently in the process of looking for funding for additional disaster relief training sessions across the region.