Hurricane Irma has passed, but the impacts of the storm live on in Florida.
Especially for senior citizens who may struggle to rebuild their homes and also take care of their health.
Many seniors who live in assisted living facilities and active senior developments were evacuated or otherwise assisted.
Others who live on their own and don’t use the internet had to rely on automated phone calls, radios, and television broadcasts to stay updated on the storm and receive instructions on whether or not to evacuate.
Whether they stayed home or sought refuge elsewhere, many faced a variety of health issues.
Seniors who live in care facilities are more likely to receive medications and have access to electricity for medical devices.
Those who live alone can face a slew of health issues when they cannot travel to refill prescriptions, connect to electricity to power medical devices, or prepare meals.
Those who do not have phone access or who do not have family nearby may not be able to connect to emergency personnel to receive assistance.
A path to safety
There are about 3.6 million senior citizens in the state of Florida.
In addition, senior citizens are one of the fastest growing populations in metro areas in southern Florida.
As of Sunday morning in Florida, 58 nursing homes and 265 assisted living facilities had been evacuated.
Kristen Knapp, a spokesperson for the Florida Health Care Association, said the average nursing home has about 120 residents. Assisted living facilities can have anywhere from five to 100 residents.
Mara Gambineri, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health, reported that her department coordinated the evacuations of 30 hospitals, more than 60 nursing homes, and 330 other healthcare facilities.
Additionally, special needs shelters were opened for residents who required more care than was being offered at shelters for the general population.
“This is all coordinated through the state office, but the real work is done at the local level through county emergency management,” Gambineri told Healthline.
However, evacuation is not always the best solution.
A 2011 study found that residents from evacuated facilities were more likely to have health conditions develop within 30 days of a storm — or even die as a result of it.
Not all seniors evacuate during a hurricane such as Irma. Some may not have the means to leave or don’t think it’s necessary to depart to a safer location.
A 2009 study looked at the 2004 hurricane season in Florida, when four hurricanes hit.
Living in a mobile home was linked to a lack of resources, which lowered the chance that those residents would go to a motel or hotel, and increased the probability they would seek out a public shelter.
That doesn’t mean those in danger who don’t evacuate put more pressure on emergency workers involved in search and rescue operations.
Knapp said that facilities create emergency preparedness plans that are filed with local emergency management offices, which provide emergency personnel direction on what to do in the event of a storm.
“The safety of residents is the first priority, so some may make the decision to evacuate even if not mandatory if they know, for example, their facility is prone to flooding,” Knapp told Healthline.
Jeff Johnson, the state director for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in Florida, said his advocacy group has been trying to monitor where state and local response isn’t considering the needs of people 50 years of age and older.
Additionally, AARP’s foundation matched more than $1.5 million in donations to local agencies serving vulnerable citizens after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana.
Johnson said it’s likely the agency will also match donations for those affected by Hurricane Irma.
Reaching seniors in the state
Gasoline shortages in Florida began as Hurricane Irma approached, and only got worse as residents fled their homes.
Due to that, some facilities needed assistance getting gasoline to transport residents.
Louis E. Svehla, a spokesperson for the Walton County Board of County Commissioners in the northwest part of the state, was relieved that his region of about 61,000 residents was not hit as severely as other areas.
That meant his county was able to open up their shelters to evacuees from throughout Florida.
Walton county also used automated phone calls let people know there was a voluntary evacuation order in place, and that a shelter was available for anyone who needed the refuge.
“We did have calls that came in from seniors living alone, saying that they’re alone and can take care of themselves, but wanted to know, ‘If I need to get out, what do I need to do?’” Svehla told Healthline.
In those cases, emergency personnel would gather more information about their housing structures and respond if evacuation assistance was needed.
While Svehla is sure there are some isolated individuals in his county, he said most people know to check on elderly neighbors to ensure their safety — something that may not happen as much in other areas of the state.
“There are people that don’t have phones, either,” he said. “In those cases you have to hope that by getting the information out there, a neighbor will be aware enough to check on them.”
Though Walton county’s response may not have been a large-scale operation during the storm, Svehla said that areas that weren’t hit as hard are likely to provide resources to areas that were devastated.
“I definitely think that as the recovery gets into place, that other counties will be asked to help,” he said. “Sharing resources really happens during the recovery.”
Lending a hand
Even though the storm has been difficult for many seniors, there are many good Samaritans trying to help.
Rabbi Yossi Goldblatt of Chabad of Deerfield Beach is one of them.
He organized meal services for seniors in the Century Village development in town.
He received praise from seniors, many of whom were without power and unable to prepare their own meals.
Actress Kristen Bell also took advantage of being in Orlando at the time by entertaining evacuees at the Meadow Woods Middle School.