It is hard for any of us to wrap our minds around these devastating back to back storms. I cannot recall any time in my life when I have been glued to watching weather on television, unable to either look away or even to stop thinking about what was happening in Houston and then in Florida. I followed friends and colleagues on social media and through emails, wondering and worrying about them and the uncertainty that they faced as these storms roared through communities and lives.
Our national organization, LeadingAge, advised us that, in Florida this past week, 265 assisted living facilities were evacuated along with 34 hospitals and 59 long term care facilities. Those numbers are staggering and, for those of us who work with older adults, create a strong reaction as we think about how we would go about that kind of evacuation in our own facilities. Imagine having to move hundreds of elders who are ill and fragile. Imagine how you manage those who are dependent on oxygen, others who cannot walk independently and still others who live with dementia and may be without the ability to understand the urgency as well as the upheaval.
As I talked about this with members of our team today, I watched their faces change as they thought about the complexity, logistics and risk of such an evacuation. Yet, to a person, they all responded in one way that “we would just do it.” There was no hesitation, no fear, rather a strong pragmatism that took over as they began to talk about how you would go about moving records, identifying residents, managing transportation and medical needs.
The same pragmatism and focus is what I heard from my friends and colleagues at our sister organizations in Florida, and before that, in Houston. Staff in each organization didn’t hesitate to report to work, in some cases bringing their families along. And they all pitched in and did what needed to be done, not just to keep these older adults safe but also to keep them calm and to keep their care consistent and at the highest possible levels.
There are people who have asked me how I can work with older adults, whether I didn’t find it “difficult” or “depressing.” My response is always the same, it is a privilege to work with our elders and we do, truly, get a gift from them every day. We learn from their experience, we bask in the warmth of their smiles and hugs, we feel honored to help add quality to their years.
Whatever challenges befall us, I am certain of one thing. Those of us who work with older adults, specifically those of us who work in nonprofit organizations, will be here no matter what happens, will continue our care and will never violate the sacred trust that we have, to provide safety and support for those who are most vulnerable.