United States Senate Special Committee on Aging

Kathryn Hyer, a professor in the School of Aging Studies, testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging on Wednesday, Sept. 20, concerning how to protect vulnerable elders in disasters.

The hearing was called in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida, particularly Irma, which knocked out electricity through much of Florida. Nine people died in a Hollywood, Fla., nursing home that lost power in the storm.

Dr. Hyer, who is also director of the Florida Policy Exchange Center on Aging, was one of four experts at the hearing, “Disaster Preparedness and Response: The Special Needs of Older Americans.” She began her research into the effect of disasters on vulnerable adults after four hurricanes blew through Florida in the summer 2004.

One notable finding, she told the committee, led by Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, was that nursing home evacuations were not always the best response to an approaching hurricane, because of the extreme stress of an evacuation on frail residents.

“Evacuations should not be all or nothing. We need a much more nuanced and better-researched understanding of who should evacuate before, and how people can be sustained appropriately.”

Overall, several steps could be taken to protect elders during and after hurricanes, Dr. Hyer testified, including making emergency plans more accessible to family members, increasing assisted living facility oversight, and making nursing homes a priority for power restoration after a storm.