We begin to prepare once the governor of South Carolina orders a mandatory evacuation in the face of an impending storm. If we live in a vulnerable area, we decide when to leave and where to go. We fill the car up with gas as soon as we can and secure the house before heading out onto the road and into traffic with other evacuees. For those of us who stay, we frantically gather supplies before the stores close and then impatiently wait, obsessing over each new path posted by the National Hurricane Center.
If all that sounds stressful, have you ever stopped to wonder what senior living communities do when the mandatory evacuation is confirmed by the governor? If you think getting your family prepared for a hurricane is hard, try securing 120 residents and about 70 staff members to assist them in what should be dubbed “operation hurricane evacuation.”
And what an “operation” it is.
Sandy Stoll, executive director at Franke at Seaside in Mount Pleasant, explained that they plan for a crisis like a hurricane years in advance. Everyone has to leave the campus, including those in independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and the staff. She said there are some Franke employees who remain available to secure the campus after residents and staff leave and to ensure that the campus is safe to return to once the governor lifts the evacuation order.
Franke at Seaside has a number of sister communities in the state that are a part of the Lutheran Homes of South Carolina; they evacuate to the Heritage at Lowman in Chapin.
“We met with the management team at the Heritage at Lowman and reviewed the campus layout about four years ago,” Stoll explained. “We planned where our residents would sleep and how we would make it all work.”
This crisis communication plan provides peace of mind for the families of the residents.
“It is actually a common question we get from families of potential residents. They want to know what we do in the case of a hurricane,” Stoll pointed out.
She said that new employees learn about the evacuation plan in orientation and that “Everyone knows their role.”
Stoll explained that there usually is a medical evacuation order about a day in advance of the mandatory evacuation, when Franke at Seaside transports its critical care residents by ambulance.
When the mandatory evacuation goes into effect, independent residents have the option to go with them to the Heritage at Lowman or evacuate elsewhere on their own. Stoll said about 25 independent living residents evacuated to Heritage during Hurricane Dorian in September. Assisted living and memory care residents traveled to Chapin for the evacuation.
“On average, about 120 residents evacuated up to Heritage at Lowman for Dorian and 70 staff members – including nurses, housekeeping and maintenance – joined them,” she said. “We rent Penske trucks to transport belongings, wheelchairs, walkers and other supplies.”
She said they get a list of any available rooms or independent living options for both staff and residents at the Heritage at Lowman to assign living arrangements prior to arrival.
“Our memory care residents are able to join the Heritage at Lowman Memory Support Program to ensure constant routine and structure,” she explained.
Allison Macfie, community outreach director, said it is very important to keep families informed about how their loved ones are doing while they are away. Kassis South, the senior director of clinical services, sends daily email updates and posts on Franke’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
“It cuts down on the anxiety to see the pictures we post of their loved ones engaged in activities while evacuated,” she said.
Stoll concluded, “It’s an impressive feat. There is so much manpower involved from the staff to the loading and unloading of the trucks. We are very lucky to have our sister community, the Heritage at Lowman, accepting us with open arms. They are extremely accommodating in what could be an otherwise stressful time.”
As a non-profit ministry, Franke at Seaside is a continuing care retirement community that includes independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, memory support, rehabilitation, and more. For information on Franke at Seaside, visit www.frankeatseaside.org or call 843-216-2222.
By Theresa Stratford