Dangers for the Elderly Population in the Wake of Hurricane Florence

In the midst of the ravening Hurricane Florence, we are reminded of the vulnerability of the elderly population during natural disasters like hurricanes.

Seniors “are not only the most likely to die in hurricanes, but in wildfires and other disasters,” said Dr. Karen DeSalvo, the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services for the Obama administration. “The seniors always seem to bear a big brunt of the storms.”

Many older people have a more difficult time evacuating because they either don’t have their own cars or are homebound.

In Hurricane Katrine, 986 Louisiana residents died and almost two-thirds were older than 65.

Deciding whether to evacuate or when to stay put is an extremely complicated and difficult decision. There are risks to moving people and there are risks to staying in place.

Evacuations pose many dangers for fragile patients. In a 2017 study there was a dramatic increase in mortality among nursing home residents who evacuated in an emergency than those who stayed in place.

Many nursing homes in the Carolinas evacuated residents to places outside of the storm’s direct rage. By Wednesday afternoon, South Carolina had evacuated 32 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

The elderly population residing at home are also at risk, especially if they lose electricity. Millions of people rely on home ventilators, IV infusion pumps and other electrically powered machines. People who lose electricity may need to go to their local emergency room to charge their medical devices.

DeSalvo states that she feels optimistic in the capabilities of the Carolinas to deal with Hurricane Florence.

“I think the good news is, for a state like South Carolina or North Carolina, they have strong, seasoned leadership in place who are capable of not only managing a complex logistical challenge, but who are good humans,” she said. “It takes both.”


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