Text on top of stormy clouds

Without Hesitation: Responding to Disaster

“It’s the kind of disaster you get trained for but never think will happen”. A message Melissa Grimes, the Mendota Health Community Engagement Director for Indianapolis, Indiana, texted to her team at 3 AM the morning of March 15th.

Just hours earlier a tornado ripped through Randolph and Delaware counties in Indiana. Fortunately for Grimes, her granddaughters were out of their house at a state gymnastics meet near Gary, Indiana when their house was hit. When she heard the news that a tornado had touched down, she did not hesitate to travel with her son to the disaster-stricken area to see how she could assist in relief efforts.

“We first went to secure my grandkids’ home. When we arrived, there was a tree through the roof, rain pouring in, and their garage was completely gone. The bathroom from someone else’s home was just outside of their bedroom window. Neighbors were still trapped in their homes and screaming. Friends of mine who are nurses and the fire department were helping dig these people out”.

After securing the home, Grimes immediately went to help evacuate the Randolph County Nursing Home a few blocks away. As someone who works for a company that provides wound care services in nursing homes, and as a former nursing home employee herself, she knew this was an all-hands-on deck situation.

“We went to help evacuate a nursing home a couple blocks away. With most of the residents out of the building when I arrived, I worked to provide comfort and then headed to the facility being set up for emergency shelter; a place I previously worked at called Persimmon Ridge. Staff at Persimmon Ridge set up an emergency shelter for the nursing home residents. And while nursing home staff are trained in how to evacuate patients, we were never trained to be on the receiving end of patients being evacuated from another facility. I am so proud of the way Persimmon Ridge and the team handled the situation” Grimes said.

As the community continues to assess its damage and needs, these residents must be prioritized for care and resources. A 2020 study looking at deaths and hospitalizations of nursing home residents after Hurricane Irma found the actual death toll for those moved from nursing homes was more than double compared to the same time frame when no hurricanes occurred. “Our finding that long-stay residents experienced greater mortality and morbidity associated with the storm is important for public health officials who must prioritize this frail population for heightened emergency preparedness in disaster situations” (Dosa 2020 et al.).

Destruction caused by tornado
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Dosa DM, Skarha J, Peterson LJ, et al. Association Between Exposure to Hurricane Irma and Mortality and Hospitalization in Florida Nursing Home Residents. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(10):e2019460. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.19460