October 1, 2013

Your Advocacy Connection – What Happens If There’s a Fire?


By Jamie Long
GolderCare Solutions and
Jamieson Long & Associates

Offering Comprehensive Long Term Care Solutions and Patient Advocacy

What Happens If There’s a Fire?

In senior and disability care, we have to think about fire safety all the time, not just during Fire Safety Month. It’s the acid test in personal safety: what happens if there’s a fire? Is the person able to save herself? Is he physically able to get himself safely out of the building in sufficient time? Is she able to dial the phone? Will he remember to call 911?

The first issue considered when evaluating a person’s current care arrangement and placement is whether they are safe in that environment. The first question asked when considering safety is, “What happens if there’s a fire?” This is true whatever the current placement setting. Often ‘the person’s current placement is at home. She could be living in her own home. Perhaps he is living in his son’s home.

These fire safety questions can help to make an initial determination as to the amount and level of care a person must have. Persons who can’t keep themselves safe from fire need, at minimum, 24/7 supervision to assist them in doing so. Those who are physically able to evacuate the building may only need prompting and guidance. Those who need physical assistance to do so will likely require a higher level of care to assure their physical safety. Is a caregiver present to assist? Is the caregiver physically able to evacuate the patient? Is there an evacuation plan? These are the next questions asked in determining whether the current plan of care is adequate to maintain the personal safety of the person receiving care.

What will happen, for instance, to the 160 pound bedridden man living at home with his 120 pound wife, acting as his primary caregiver, if their house catches on fire? Is his current plan of care adequate, or does it require modification to beef it up?

October was selected as Fire Prevention Month because the Great Chicago Fire occurred in October 1871. The timing worked out great for school systems because by October of each new school year their students would have mastered their evacuation drills. For those in senior and disability care, however, Fire Safety Month isn’t limited to October. For them, every month is like Fire Safety Month.

Patient safety must be Job One for every caregiver. This is true whether the caregiver is a paid professional or a voluntary family member or friend. Quite often, voluntary caregivers lose sight of this imperative, usually because they haven’t been sufficiently trained or sensitized to the issue.

If you’re caring for a loved one, or if someone’s caring for you, what is your fire evacuation plan? Until this question is answered, the care plan is incomplete and inadequate. As such, it jeopardizes not only the health and safety of the person being cared for, but also the well-being of the caregiver. If a patient dies or is injured in a fire as the result of an inadequate care plan, the caregiver might be forced to pay money damages to the patient or her estate or family. In a worst case scenario, the caregiver might even be convicted of neglect or criminal negligence.

Unless you’re a professional caregiver, it is usually best to obtain care coaching services from a Professional Patient Advocate or a Professional Geriatric Care Manager when undertaking long-term care for a loved one. This is especially true when your loved one is being cared for at home or in a similar setting. But it’s also true for care placement and care management decisions when a loved one’s care needs are best met in the setting of a care facility.

Regardless of the setting, wise and savvy caretakers get the advice they need to do the job right. The fact that a family caregiver is not charging for services or otherwise doing them out of generosity does not excuse negligence or a lack of professionalism. Protect your loved one. Protect yourself. Obtain the professional advice you need before embarking on the journey of long-term care.

Jamie Long is the owner of GolderCare Solutions and recently earned a Certificate from the Professional Patient Advocate Institute.

Filed Under: Health & Wellness