Transportation was an Achilles' heel. None of the nursing homes had planned to ensure transportation of adequate food and water for evacuated residents, while 19 had no specific plan for transporting wheelchairs and similar equipment. Twenty-two of the plans did not describe how the nursing home would transport medications.
Seventeen had no specific plan for working with local emergency coordinators to decide whether to evacuate or shelter in place.
Not surprisingly, administrators and staff from 17 of the nursing homes told investigators they faced substantial challenges in responding to the disasters that hit their areas. A common problem was that transportation contracts were not honored after an evacuation was called. Four nursing homes that did evacuate said they had problems trying to keep track of residents and supplies, in some cases temporarily losing patients.
The vulnerability of nursing home patients became a national issue when 35 residents of St. Rita's Nursing Home just outside New Orleans perished during Katrina. Some drowned in their beds.
Prosecutors charged the owners of the facility with negligent homicide, saying they should have evacuated the home. But a jury acquitted them of all charges. Some jurors said afterward that Louisiana authorities should have taken responsibility for the safety of nursing home residents ahead of the monster storm.
A Houston Chronicle investigation found that, all told, at least 139 nursing home residents died during the hurricane or its aftermath.
The top 10 disaster-prone states, as ranked by historical statistics on major disaster declarations, are Texas, California, Oklahoma, New York, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Missouri.
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