Evacuate or stay? For nursing homes in storm's path, decision isn't easy

Evacuate or stay? For nursing homes in storm's path, decision isn't easy

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At Trinity Grove, a 100-bed skilled nursing facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, residents will be riding out Hurricane Florence — despite widespread evacuations triggered by the Category 3 storm, which could potentially deliver a historic blow to the Carolinas.

Trinity Grove has food and water, and a 750-megawatt generator that can keep the entire building running, said Ted Goins, president and CEO of Lutheran Services Carolinas, which operates Trinity Grove as well as other skilled nursing facilities throughout the state.

But the decision to keep the elderly residents where they are instead of evacuating them wasn’t an easy one.

“We’re still wrestling with it. It’s a hard decision to make, and there’s plenty of people that would second-guess no matter which decision you make,” Goins said. “Lives are at stake, so we don’t take it lightly.”

Given their residents’ age and feebleness, nursing home staff decided that hunkering down was best: The seven-year-old building that houses Trinity Grove was built “in anticipation of today,” Goins said, explaining that it’s on high ground and that the roof was built to withstand high winds.

But residents there have never been through anything like this. They have never had to even consider evacuating.

“This is our first real test. North Carolina has been spared for years, so we have never had an event like this,” Goins said. “But again, I keep getting back to, this is why we built the kind of building that we built — for this day.”

As health care facilities, nursing homes sometimes have the option to not abide by evacuation orders if they feel it is not in the best interest of their patients and have an alternate emergency shelter-in-place plan, according to Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician at the Providence VA and a health services researcher at Brown University. And past studies have shown that in some cases, evacuating can cause more harm than good.

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