February 23,2023

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Taylor Harvey

Wyden, Casey Examine Long-term Care Shortfalls During Texas Winter Blackout

New Investigation from Finance and Aging Committee Chairs Highlights Need to Improve Emergency Preparedness in Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities as Climate Change Increases Extreme Weather Events

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Senate Special Committee on Aging Chair Bob Casey, D-Pa., today released an investigative report examining emergency preparedness in long-term care facilities during the February 2021 winter storm in Texas that led to widespread blackouts across the state.

“As the climate crisis continues to cause an increase in severe weather events, greater strain is going to be placed on those that care for the most vulnerable,” Wyden said. “This report is a case study of just one in an increasing number of circumstances where elderly or infirm Americans are subjected to difficult conditions due to severe weather. Whether it’s a winter storm, hurricane or wildfire, more must be done to ensure long-term care facilities are adequately prepared to handle these events and care for their residents.” 

“This report should serve as a warning sign—as we experience more frequent and catastrophic climate disasters, long-term care facilities must be better prepared to protect residents living there,” said Casey. “The recommendations in this report include causes I have championed for years, such as ensuring older adults and people with disabilities have a voice at every stage of disaster management and emergency preparedness planning and improving staffing and bolstering state survey agencies’ ability to effectively conduct oversight. We must learn from past tragedies to prevent future ones and keep older adults, people with disabilities, and health care workers safe when disaster strikes.”

The winter storm that hit Texas and much of the central and southern plains in February 2021 led to electrical grid failures that resulted in millions of Texans going without power and water for days. Researchers have linked the 2021 winter storm and ones like it to climate change. Nearly half of Texas’ 1,200 nursing homes reported emergencies to state regulators, including electricity outages, water outages and evacuations, according to data the Committees obtained and analyzed during the investigation. At least 1,400 residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities had to be evacuated and two assisted living facility residents died.

The report identifies extreme weather events that occurred in 17 states since 2018 that forced long-term care facilities to evacuate damaged buildings, or led to resident injuries and deaths. Finally, it highlights emergency preparedness shortfalls identified at nursing homes by a series of independent watchdog audits, including short-staffing at the facilities and the states agencies that oversee them.

Taken together, the report’s findings highlight the need for long-term care facilities to have adequate emergency preparedness plans amid increasing severe weather events, and staffs that are trained to execute them. Federal data show that 26 percent of the disasters that have caused $1 billion or more of damage since 1980 have occurred in the last five years, and that the average length of electricity interruptions experienced by U.S. consumers has been increasing.

The report’s recommendations call for developing more inclusive disaster planning and management; improving the transparency related to nursing home emergency preparedness plans; and ensuring adequate staffing of nursing homes and the state agencies that oversee them. 

These recommendations draw on the report’s findings, as well as Casey’s REAADI for Disasters Act, which calls for including older adults and people with disabilities in emergency planning and management. The report also restates 18 recommendations Wyden issued in his 2018 report, Sheltering in Danger, which have drawn support from patient advocates, a major nursing home industry group and federal regulators.

A summary of the report can be found here. The full report can be found here.