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Liability

Nursing Home Downfalls: What Happens When Evacuations Are Delayed

For facilities entrusted with the lives of vulnerable populations, emergency preparedness plans are complex documents that never stop evolving.
By: | December 14, 2017 • 9 min read

A nightmarish scene unfolded in Port Arthur, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey. Law enforcement and volunteer teams forcibly evacuated a flooded nursing home that waited too long past the window of opportunity to launch a safe evacuation.

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Not even two weeks later, amid the chaos of Hurricane Irma, another crisis was brewing at a nursing home in Hollywood Hills, Fla. This time though, help didn’t arrive in time. Eight vulnerable residents died after a few days in the sweltering facility with no power. Six more died of related complications in the weeks that followed.

The latter facility has since been shut down, and the operators of both facilities are facing serious scrutiny from law enforcement as well as regulatory agencies. It’s no surprise multiple lawsuits are already in process.

Yet neither of these incidents is entirely isolated. There are long-term care facilities across the country that, in the event of a disaster, could be one questionable decision or one poorly executed procedure away from finding themselves publicly pilloried.

Crisis management in skilled nursing facilities and long-term care facilities is an incredibly complex endeavor that takes the cooperation of risk management, the executive suite, vendors, suppliers and community partnerships.

Fortunately, there are a great many resources available to help nursing and long-term care facilities ensure their ability to protect patients and residents as well as staff members.

The Plan’s the Thing

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published an updated rule in 2016, “Emergency Preparedness Requirements for Medicare and Medicaid Participating Providers and Suppliers.” Health care providers, including nursing and long-term care facilities, were required to be in compliance with the new rule as of Nov. 15 of this year.

Diane Doherty, senior vice president, Chubb Healthcare

So while facilities already had disaster plans in place, CMS set the bar a notch higher and formalized certain aspects of emergency preparedness planning for the health care industry.

“Without a doubt the rule represents new challenges to long-term care organizations due to the sheer amount of work related to complying with the regulation and the preparation involved,” said Diane Doherty, senior vice president, Chubb Healthcare. But Doherty said she feels confident that most facilities were able to meet the Nov. 15 deadline.

Still, there can be a significant gap between a facility that’s meeting minimum compliance requirements and a facility that’s genuinely ready to weather a storm or a sudden fire.

The foundation of a strong preparedness plan, experts agree, is a comprehensive hazard vulnerability assessment, or HVA, which looks at every type of emergency or disaster a facility might face and carefully addresses how each scenario might impact a location’s ability to keep its residents and employees safe, both during an emergency and in the days and weeks that follow.

The assessment helps pinpoint the services a facility will need by “identifying residents who require additional assistance — the wheelchair-bound, the bed-bound, the residents on ventilators,” said Doherty. This includes residents with dementia as well as those who simply need assistance ambulating.

“If you didn’t ask the right questions and don’t have the right information, it is hard to make a decision about the patient lives that are in your building.” — Scott Aronson, Director, Strategy & Business Development – Healthcare, RPA

Assessment best practices should include the help of community partners such as law enforcement and local emergency management and health department officials, said Scott Aronson, Director, Strategy & Business Development – Healthcare for RPA, a JENSEN HUGHES Company. RPA is an emergency management firm and technology provider serving the health care industry.

By engaging community resources, said Aronson, “you will at least know what they feel the threat is to your buildings and to your patients and to your infrastructure — of either getting resources in to you or getting you out of there — or whether your building will be able to stand up to the hazards.”

The quality of the assessment is key, said Aronson, because that information will help prioritize planning and support how decisions will be made during a crisis.

“If you didn’t ask the right questions and don’t have the right information, it is hard to make a decision about the patient lives that are in your building.”

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For the same reason, said Aronson, organizations can’t expect their state or local government to tell them what to do in a crisis. Municipalities aren’t typically inclined to order an evacuation except in extreme situations. It’s up to each facility’s incident command team to make decisions based on the information directly in hand.

Whether the decision in the moment is to shelter-in-place or evacuate, an organization’s vendor and supplier network is a significant piece of the emergency planning puzzle.

Transportation arrangements and sheltering agreements with receiving facilities must be in place in the event of an evacuation. Fuel, water and other supplies may be needed in other circumstances. Getting it right often means having a plan B — or even a plan C.

Risk managers need to look at the larger picture — their primary and contingency vendors as well as their vendors’ contingency arrangements.

“If your fuel supply is local, for example, then do you have a contingency? Are they part of a national company where they have other resources they can bring in from other locations?” said Rick Maltz, senior director of resident services and risk management at Erickson Living, home to more than 24,000 seniors in 11 states.

Marcia Price, Erickson Living’s vice president of operations and risk management, added, “Sometimes it is necessary to make a judgment call when determining the right contract partner. You may see a vendor and it seems great — maybe the pricing’s a little lower. But if it’s a local vendor, you have to think about [your contingency plan in] an emergency. It may be better to go with a national vendor who can always provide for you.

“However, if you’re going to use a local vendor, have a backup plan or a backup contract so that you give yourself some options.”

The drawback with back-up vendors though, Price cautioned, is if you’re not a high-use client, you may not be at the top of their priority list.

Having the right supplies in the right places is a strength of Erickson’s. As Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Northeast, Erickson trucked fuel in from Florida and kept the truck parked at one of its facilities.

When nobody else in the area had fuel, they were able to keep the facility’s generator topped off and also provided fuel for employees’ cars.

New approaches are being developed that can significantly expand options for facilities and organizations of every size. More than 1,000 southern New England facilities signed on to Mutual Aid, a technology platform developed by RPA. The platform is designed to enable facilities to support each other in the event of a disaster.

Mutual Aid is a powerful tool to amplify the resources of every member facility. “They will actually deploy each other’s vendors to help the other,” explained RPA’s Aronson. “Or they’ll send their own resources and assets to help the other.”

Even for large corporate groups, such a network of support can play a massive role in terms of rapid response. A hurricane enables the advance deployment of resources, but most other disasters don’t.

“A lot of the other things corporate groups may just not be prepared for — tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires — you can’t just plop resources down in the middle of that,” said Aronson. “You have to rely on existing partnerships in the community, in the region, and in the greater state to help you out.”

Continuous Improvement

Training and testing of the emergency preparedness plan is essential. It’s never enough to just tick off a checklist, experts agree.

“You can check the boxes pretty easily, but did you actually learn anything? And will it benefit you in the future?” said Aronson. “It’s critical that they really do it and not just go through the 10-minute motions. They have to learn from that exercise and improve their plans and training going forward.”

Marcia Price, vice president of operations and risk management, Erickson Living

At Erickson Living, disaster preparedness messages are woven into the company’s broader safety education program, including department-specific safety talks, monthly town hall meetings and annual compliance training.

But it’s the drills that really test both the plan itself and each facility’s ability to execute it successfully.  Drills simulate how each person might react under the pressure of a real-life crisis and help identify opportunities for improvement.

“It really helps [the facilities] train their teams on what is expected. We think that’s an important piece of being able to train people on how you handle an emergency,” said Price.

In addition, she said, it’s a chance to work with local emergency responders and solidify those relationships and expectations long before a crisis occurs.

Both Maltz and Price said that each drill and each actual incident help identify gaps. Any unexpected wrinkle is an opportunity to update the plan in order to be better prepared for the next event. “A couple of the things we learned from Harvey we took to Irma,” noted Maltz.

Price added, “Our program is based on continuous learning; it’s not an annual event because this is a living document, and we keep updating it and we keep making sure that we’re improving on it.”

Free Resources

From a coverage perspective, property and business interruption policies are essential for nursing and long-term care facilities, as are workers’ comp, medical professional liability, general liability and D&O.

But carriers have more to offer their long-term care clients, said Doherty.

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“I think it’s important for [long-term care facilities] to partner with a carrier that’s going to help them meet these challenges head on, whether it’s assisting with conducting the risk assessment or providing education to their staff,” she said.

There’s a wealth of other resources out there for organizations to avail themselves of, and much of it is free.

The Nursing Home Incident Command System (NHICS) was developed in California and can be downloaded for free, said Aronson. It’s one of a large trove of free resources found at ASPR TRACIE, a double-whammy acronym for the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response and Technical Resources, Assistance Center and Information Exchange.

Other free materials can be found on the websites of FEMA and the department of Health and Human Services. Numerous professional associations as well as state and federal websites offer free resources to help meet the latest CMS requirements.

“Long-term care facilities are under constant pressure to do more with less,” said Doherty. “Those that prepare and practice and train for that inevitable catastrophe — they really reduce the chances of debilitating losses while strengthening their ability to safely care for this fragile and vulnerable population.” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Cyber Resilience

No, Seriously. You Need a Comprehensive Cyber Incident Response Plan Before It’s Too Late.

Awareness of cyber risk is increasing, but some companies may be neglecting to prepare adequate response plans that could save them millions. 
By: | June 1, 2018 • 7 min read

To minimize the financial and reputational damage from a cyber attack, it is absolutely critical that businesses have a cyber incident response plan.

“Sadly, not all yet do,” said David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy.

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In the event of a breach, a company must be able to quickly identify and contain the problem, assess the level of impact, communicate internally and externally, recover where possible any lost data or functionality needed to resume business operations and act quickly to manage potential reputational risk.

This can only be achieved with help from the right external experts and the design and practice of a well-honed internal response.

The first step a company must take, said Legassick, is to understand its cyber exposures through asset identification, classification, risk assessment and protection measures, both technological and human.

According to Raf Sanchez, international breach response manager, Beazley, cyber-response plans should be flexible and applicable to a wide range of incidents, “not just a list of consecutive steps.”

They also should bring together key stakeholders and specify end goals.

Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

With bad actors becoming increasingly sophisticated and often acting in groups, attack vectors can hit companies from multiple angles simultaneously, meaning a holistic approach is essential, agreed Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions.

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.”

This means assembling a response team including individuals from IT, legal, operations, risk management, HR, finance and the board — each of whom must be well drilled in their responsibilities in the event of a breach.

“You can’t pick your players on the day of the game,” said Hogg. “Response times are critical, so speed and timing are of the essence. You should also have a very clear communication plan to keep the CEO and board of directors informed of recommended courses of action and timing expectations.”

People on the incident response team must have sufficient technical skills and access to critical third parties to be able to make decisions and move to contain incidents fast. Knowledge of the company’s data and network topology is also key, said Legassick.

“Perhaps most important of all,” he added, “is to capture in detail how, when, where and why an incident occurred so there is a feedback loop that ensures each threat makes the cyber defense stronger.”

Cyber insurance can play a key role by providing a range of experts such as forensic analysts to help manage a cyber breach quickly and effectively (as well as PR and legal help). However, the learning process should begin before a breach occurs.

Practice Makes Perfect

“Any incident response plan is only as strong as the practice that goes into it,” explained Mike Peters, vice president, IT, RIMS — who also conducts stress testing through his firm Sentinel Cyber Defense Advisors.

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Unless companies have an ethical hacker or certified information security officer on board who can conduct sophisticated simulated attacks, Peters recommended they hire third-party experts to test their networks for weaknesses, remediate these issues and retest again for vulnerabilities that haven’t been patched or have newly appeared.

“You need to plan for every type of threat that’s out there,” he added.

Hogg agreed that bringing third parties in to conduct tests brings “fresh thinking, best practice and cross-pollination of learnings from testing plans across a multitude of industries and enterprises.”

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.” — Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

Legassick added that companies should test their plans at least annually, updating procedures whenever there is a significant change in business activity, technology or location.

“As companies expand, cyber security is not always front of mind, but new operations and territories all expose a company to new risks.”

For smaller companies that might not have the resources or the expertise to develop an internal cyber response plan from whole cloth, some carriers offer their own cyber risk resources online.

Evan Fenaroli, an underwriting product manager with the Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY), said his company hosts an eRiskHub, which gives PHLY clients a place to start looking for cyber event response answers.

That includes access to a pool of attorneys who can guide company executives in creating a plan.

“It’s something at the highest level that needs to be a priority,” Fenaroli said. For those just getting started, Fenaroli provided a checklist for consideration:

  • Purchase cyber insurance, read the policy and understand its notice requirements.
  • Work with an attorney to develop a cyber event response plan that you can customize to your business.
  • Identify stakeholders within the company who will own the plan and its execution.
  • Find outside forensics experts that the company can call in an emergency.
  • Identify a public relations expert who can be called in the case of an event that could be leaked to the press or otherwise become newsworthy.

“When all of these things fall into place, the outcome is far better in that there isn’t a panic,” said Fenaroli, who, like others, recommends the plan be tested at least annually.

Cyber’s Physical Threat

With the digital and physical worlds converging due to the rise of the Internet of Things, Hogg reminded companies: “You can’t just test in the virtual world — testing physical end-point security is critical too.”

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How that testing is communicated to underwriters should also be a key focus, said Rich DePiero, head of cyber, North America, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions.

Don’t just report on what went well; it’s far more believable for an underwriter to hear what didn’t go well, he said.

“If I hear a client say it is perfect and then I look at some of the results of the responses to breaches last year, there is a disconnect. Help us understand what you learned and what you worked out. You want things to fail during these incident response tests, because that is how we learn,” he explained.

“Bringing in these outside firms, detailing what they learned and defining roles and responsibilities in the event of an incident is really the best practice, and we are seeing more and more companies do that.”

Support from the Board

Good cyber protection is built around a combination of process, technology, learning and people. While not every cyber incident needs to be reported to the boardroom, senior management has a key role in creating a culture of planning and risk awareness.

David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy

“Cyber is a boardroom risk. If it is not taken seriously at boardroom level, you are more than likely to suffer a network breach,” Legassick said.

However, getting board buy-in or buy-in from the C-suite is not always easy.

“C-suite executives often put off testing crisis plans as they get in the way of the day job. The irony here is obvious given how disruptive an incident can be,” said Sanchez.

“The C-suite must demonstrate its support for incident response planning and that it expects staff at all levels of the organization to play their part in recovering from serious incidents.”

“What these people need from the board is support,” said Jill Salmon, New York-based vice president, head of cyber/tech/MPL, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.

“I don’t know that the information security folks are looking for direction from the board as much as they are looking for support from a resources standpoint and a visibility standpoint.

“They’ve got to be aware of what they need and they need to have the money to be able to build it up to that level,” she said.

Without that support, according to Legassick, failure to empower and encourage the IT team to manage cyber threats holistically through integration with the rest of the organization, particularly risk managers, becomes a common mistake.

He also warned that “blame culture” can prevent staff from escalating problems to management in a timely manner.

Collaboration and Communication

Given that cyber incident response truly is a team effort, it is therefore essential that a culture of collaboration, preparation and practice is embedded from the top down.

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One of the biggest tripping points for companies — and an area that has done the most damage from a reputational perspective — is in how quickly and effectively the company communicates to the public in the aftermath of a cyber event.

Salmon said of all the cyber incident response plans she has seen, the companies that have impressed her most are those that have written mock press releases and rehearsed how they are going to respond to the media in the aftermath of an event.

“We have seen so many companies trip up in that regard,” she said. “There have been examples of companies taking too long and then not explaining why it took them so long. It’s like any other crisis — the way that you are communicating it to the public is really important.” &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]