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

Tammy Lampson

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.

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. 

As a Tallahassee native, Kate Payne grew up listening to WFSU. She loves being part of a station that had such an impact on her. Kate is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. With a background in documentary and narrative filmmaking, Kate has a broad range of multimedia experience. When she’s not working, you can find her rock climbing, cooking or hanging out with her cat.