In September 2017, Hurricane Irma tore through the state of Florida, killing 75 people and leaving billions of dollars of damage in its wake.
Officer Dee Brown (fourth from left) and the staff of Symphony at St. Augustine
emphasized the importance of having a Plan B.
Although devastating, many lessons were learned from Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. One such lesson stresses the importance of having an evacuation plan in place long before the storm hits.
During Irma, 5.6 million people – more than one-quarter of Florida’s population – were ordered to evacuate. For families with loved ones with dementia, it’s vitally important they have a Plan B for these situations.
At Symphony at St. Augustine, a community devoted exclusively to the care of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and other forms of dementia, the staff now offers a perfect Plan B for seniors with memory impairment – a temporary stay with them.
“Evacuation to a public shelter is often not the best option for loved ones with dementia,” cautions Tara Tosh, Symphony at St Augustine’s executive director. “They’ll be in a strange place surrounded by people they don’t know. They’re bound to get scared and confused. That only adds more stress to an already stressful situation for them and their families.
“Instead, caregivers can bring their loved ones to our community, where they’ll be with people they’ve had a chance to meet. They’ll be safe and well cared for in a cozy environment while their family members go to shelters or elsewhere.”
Florida’s hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, but a caregiver and senior can initiate a Plan B at Symphony at St. Augustine at any time. All they have to do is tour the facility and provide the staff with the loved one’s key information, including their advanced directives, medication lists and emergency contacts. A plan is then finalized for the loved one to be brought to the community during an emergency.
“In the case of a hurricane, there’s normally about a three-day advanced notice,” observes Tara. “People who have a Plan B don’t have to worry. If they see that something is brewing in the Atlantic, they can bring their loved one to stay with us for a while. They’ll know their loved one is safe and comfortable during the storm and its aftermath.
“Plan B works for other types of emergencies as well, such as car accidents or illnesses. If the caregiver is suddenly unable to be there for their loved one, the plan can be initiated by a family member or the police. Then, the loved one will be brought to our community immediately.”
Preparing for emergencies is an everyday job for Margaret*, director of a local emergency management service. Her department offers advice to people on how to be ready for disasters such as hurricanes. One of the first things they recommend is that every family develop a “family plan” in the event an evacuation becomes necessary.
“The family plan should cover all the bases, including where they’ll evacuate to and the steps needed to take care of all family members and pets,” she explains. “As part of executing the plan, people need to identify all members of the family and make sure they all get to a safe place outside the evacuation zone.”
Plans don’t have to be formal, or even written down, just fully understood by all members of the family. Margaret notes that there are online tools to help families create a plan, including those on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website (www.fema.gov) and the St. Johns County Emergency Management website (sjcemergencymanagement.org).
Officer Dee Brown of the St. Augustine Police Department agrees that families should have plans in place before emergencies occur. He says they should not wait until the last minute to figure out what they’re going to do in an evacuation. One thing they should not do is remain in their homes and rely on emergency services to help them.
“There’s a point during a hurricane when the wind speeds become so great that officers are ordered off the streets,” he notes. “At that point, we won’t be able to go to anyone’s aid until it’s safe for us to do so. People don’t want to get caught in that window.
“Once we make the recommendation to evacuate, families should already know where they’re going to go. They don’t want to end up in a situation where everyone’s trying to get to one location and there isn’t enough room.”
Senior family members should be specifically addressed in the family’s plan, notes Margaret. They often require special treatment to prepare them for leaving their homes.
“Families must review their disaster supply kits for their senior family members,” she says. “Seniors likely have different needs, such as medications, medical supplies, oxygen and other items to make them comfortable. The families must make sure they have all of these items in their disaster kits when they are ordered to evacuate.
“Seniors also move at a different rate, so families may have to take extra time moving them into vehicles for the evacuation. The families should let their loved ones know where they’re going and how long they’re going to be there.”
Margaret likes the Plan B concept at Symphony at St. Augustine. She’s seen firsthand cases where families are overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring for a senior during an emergency. Making arrangements for a loved one to briefly stay in an assisted living facility can help everyone.
“Every family has to evaluate the level of care they’re able to give to an elderly family member or friend,” she relates. “If they don’t have the resources to appropriately care for that person, then a stay in an assisted living facility like Symphony at St. Augustine may be the best option for that person and that family.”
Margaret herself has a loved one living full-time at Symphony at St. Augustine. Although hers was not a Plan B situation, Margaret is comforted knowing her loved one is safe and secure when emergencies occur and she can’t be there.
“Because of my job, during an emergency, I have to be at the emergency operations center twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week until the emergency is over,” she shares. “My loved one needs twenty-four-hour care. I feel better with her at Symphony at St. Augustine.”
When a disaster like Hurricane Irma occurs, Symphony at St. Augustine is ready. It has its own coordinated plan to care for its residents on site during the emergency. The plan also has provisions for the safe and secure evacuation of staff and
residents if ordered.
“If a hurricane should hit, we have a generator that holds more than twelve hundred gallons of fuel,” reports Tara. “It lights up the entire building and powers the air conditioning units. We also have meals for residents and family members up to one hundred people for five days as well as a fully functioning kitchen.
“We hope that we don’t need to evacuate, but in the event we do, we bring the residents to a safe community out of the path of the storm. We take care of transportation, food and all other essentials family members worry about.”
Tara encourages all families with loved ones with dementia to come to Symphony at St. Augustine, take a tour and speak with the staff.
“It’s simple for families to get a Plan B started, just check us out and drop off their loved one’s information,” she stresses. “Then, at least, they’ll have a plan in place should they need it.
“I tell people: Don’t wait until the hurricane winds and rains are hitting. Drop off your family member at Symphony at St. Augustine. We’ll take care of the rest.”
For more information, please contact Symphony at St. Augustine (904) 432-1640.
* Name changed to protect privacy.