Harvey's Flooding And Lack Of Evacuations Could Affect Emergency Plans For Florida's Elderly

Aug 30, 2017

Thousands reacted this week to a photo of residents sitting waist-deep in floodwaters at an assisted living facility in Dickinson, Texas. The town did not issue a mandatory evacuation order ahead of Tropical Storm Harvey. The photo, and Texas officials' decisions to not evacuate, could have ramifications for emergency plans for Florida’s elderly residents.

Residents sit in waist-deep floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey at the La Vita Bella assisted living facility in Dickinson, Texas.
Credit Tammy Lampson

Leaving behind the medical infrastructure of an assisted living facility is not an easy decision to make. Traffic gridlock, lack of supplies and heatstroke can be deadly. In the past, some evacuations have led to more deaths than storms themselves. Shad Haston heads the state’s assisted living association. Despite the difficulties, he says after Harvey more Florida facilities may opt to evacuate regardless of local orders.

“I think you will see that a lot more facilities take the cautious approach and evacuate, even if they don’t believe evacuation is necessary,” he said.

But the uncertainty of evacuations, especially unnecessary ones, worries him. 

“I’m not saying that’s a good thing. Because I don’t know, for example, what Houston’s emergency response would have been to so many people on the roads at…a given point of time. Whether they would’ve been able to handle that," he said.

Haston says Harvey is spurring Florida facilities to re-evaluate their plans. It’s likely, he says, many would arrange to send residents to other facilities in the region.

According to the state’s directory, Florida has more than 3,000 assisted living facilities with an estimated 73,000 residents.