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Ref: South Carolina government works to coordinate elderly evacuations



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State agency hires to oversee nursing home evacuation plans


Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina's chief health agency has hired someone to oversee evacuation plans at nursing homes during emergency's like hurricanes. But the state still hasn't come up with a way to coordinate the mass evacuation of such homes along the coast.

Palmetto State leaders spent the year improving readiness should a devastating hurricane like Katrina and Rita hit here. One step was the state Department of Health and Environmental Control bringing on an employee to work with nursing homes on evacuation plans and storm preparedness.

DHEC could not work out an evacuation plan with the Motorcoach Association of South Carolina, which is the chief contractor former nursing homes in the state. The talks did help lead to the hire.

"It's not doing their plans for them, because that's their responsibility," agency spokesman Thom Berry said. "But it's someone who can answer questions and talk to transportation providers."

State emergency readiness officials determined South Carolina needed to do more ahead of a big storm and legislators approved more money for that area.

Randal Lee is president of the nursing-home trade group, South Carolina Health Care Association. He said nursing-home owners are confident of their evacuation and readiness plans, and that previous storm evacuations have gone largely without complications.

During an emergency-preparedness summit in Charleston last month, Dr. Rick Rader, the director of a Tennessee facility that serves people with physical and mental needs, said too much is expected of low-wage nursing-home workers.

"The societal expectation is that they will behave like Madame Curie," Rader said, comparing the two-time Nobel Prize-winning scientist with nursing home workers with high school diplomas or GEDs.

"It's a little unrealistic to put all of the burden on these direct-support professionals," Rader said.

While planning can make clear people's duties in emergency situations, Rader says planning has its limits.

Still, it's necessary to avoid problems should a big storm hit, said Jim Gilmore, former Virginia governor who is now chairman of the National Council on Readiness and Preparedness.

"If you don't have enough buses or transportation providers, you better get them," said Gilmore, whose group put on the Charleston emergency-preparedness summit. "And the time to do that is now."

Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com

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