To Help Older Adults in Times of Disaster, New Policies Are Needed

While it won’t bring immediate aid or comfort to the millions of Americans impacted by Hurricane Maria, the Senate Special Committee on Aging is aware of the need to improve policies to help older adults in times of disaster.

On September 20 — the day that Hurricane Maria, a powerful Category 4 hurricane, made landfall in Puerto Rico — the committee convened a hearing to learn from experts about the options available for helping older adults cope in times of natural disasters.

Among the four experts presenting that day was longtime GSA member Dr. Kathryn Hyer, who serves as director of the Florida Policy Exchange Center on Aging at the University of South Florida. Kathy provided the committee with specific recommendations related to helping nursing homes and assisted living communities prepare for disasters and her fellow panel members addressed related topics.

While each of the three enormously powerful hurricanes to directly strike U.S. citizens in the past weeks has been unique, Maria struck the acknowledged weaker infrastructure comprising much of Puerto Rico’s roads, bridges, ports, power plants, and electrical grid. The result is a much greater level of devastation, increased peril following the storm, and a much, much longer road to recovery. This issue is something GSA members understand well, as it’s analogous to how older adults, with a reduced immune response and decreased functional reserve, are at much greater risk when a health calamity strikes. Recovery can occur but it’s usually a longer, harder road, and requires striking resilience.

Many GSA members live in Puerto Rico and our thoughts and prayers are with all affected as they navigate a tumultuous recovery and begin the long process of rebuilding. To boost their resilience, I encourage you to consider supporting one of the charities set up to support relief efforts, such as the American Red Cross.

In the meantime, GSA will continue to support our members working in the area of disaster preparedness and will report out on the September 20 hearing so all are aware of policy recommendations put forward.